National Geographic : 2006 Jun
who didn't know about her famous relatives until the night before her wedding. "Your fiance may not want to go ahead with this," warned her mother after disclosing the family secret. Hap pily, the revelation charmed the groom-to-be. Attitudes loosened over time. "I am just so proud. Why, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them," says Betty Bunker Blackmon, while June Ross Bunker of Richmond, Virginia, once opined that "it sure beats having horse thieves in the family." Since everything is relative, the fuss mys tifies some. "Why, they was just normal family," says Virginia Bunker, a Bunker by marriage. All families have disagreements, and the The twins were fine carpenters, hunters, and horsemen. "They were handicapped, but it didn't bother them," says Eng's great-grandson Jasper, holding a chair they made. Bunkers are no exception. In Mount Airy, unlike the TV town of Mayberry, all problems are not resolved in 30 minutes. Most arguments con cern who owns what Bunker land and who owns -or doesn't-certain artifacts, particularly when the family relic falls into the hands of a Bunker by marriage, not blood. It did not sit well with some when a gold watch chain owned by the twins ended up with a brother-in-law. Jasper Bunker, who runs a sewing machine store in town, owns a double-wide chair made by the twins. The caned seat has double impres sions where the twins sat. Although an uncle left the chair to him, another family member who had it on loan seemed reluctant to surrender possession. Finally, Jasper's wife, Jane, a sturdy determined woman with a mission, called the relative up. "I told her I was coming for that chair in two minutes and showed up at the door." The heirloom was handed over. Succeeding generations have produced 11 sets of twins, all normal. The first born since the original set were Eng's great-grandsons, also named Chang and Eng Bunker, now 65 years old. They are fraternal, not identical, and bear some of the Asian traits of their ancestors. "We'd get teased all the time when we were in school," Eng recalls, adding softly that they gave as good as they got. "After all, it was four fists against them instead of two." Most visitors come to Mount Airy searching for the nostalgic simplicity of Mayberry, un mindful of its connection to the Siamese twins. But seven years ago, a pediatric surgeon from England was directed to Tanya Blackmon Jones, who runs the Surry Arts Council, the town's cul tural center. The surgeon, it turned out, special ized in separating conjoined twins. In the 19th century Chang and Eng had no such option. Although they consulted many famous doctors, all advised separation would be fatal. "The surgeon sat in my office and wanted to talk," Jones recalls. Most of all he wanted to talk about one of his cases: conjoined sisters with organ sets that seemed perfectly intact and sep arate. The surgical team waited until the twins were old enough to withstand the operation. When separated, one twin died. Her weaker heart couldn't tolerate the surgery. The doctor looked stricken. "Just because we can separate them, does it mean we should?" he asked. Tanya Blackmon Jones, great-great-grand daughter of Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twin, didn't have an answer. [ Family Album See more images of Mount Airy's famed Bunker clan at ngm.com/0606.