Friday, January 20th, 2012...10:00 am

You’ve Got Mail: Compliments to Dr. Cohen

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A curiosity in life, Chang Bunker (1811-1874) and Eng Bunker (1811-1874), the famous conjoined twins, leave us with this most curious thank you note.

Bunker, Chang. Bunker, Eng. Letter to Dr. Cohen, 1837. MS Thr 467.

The experience of cataloging this letter led to some interesting observations. Chang and Eng spent every moment of their lives together but there is some evidence that they did try to live distinctly different lives.

First of all, while this page could be considered one letter, it could also be characterized as two letters since two separate sentiments were expressed in separate hands. In addition, Chang Bunker and Eng Bunker are listed separately by the Library of Congress authorities despite the fact that any mention of them in print always appears jointly as “Chang and Eng”.

The handwriting itself is fascinating. For example, The B in “Baltimore” is almost identical but the upper case D and lower case g are distinct. Are the differences intentional?

It’s not at all clear from this letter why they were paying thanks for Dr. Cohen but there are some that speculate that they may have sought separation as they were nearing the end of their tenure with P. T. Barnum in the late 1830’s.

After they left Barnum, they settled in North Carolina and met the Yates sisters that they married in 1843.

Chang and Eng Bunker with their families. Popular Entertainment Prints. Harvard Theatre Collection

Here they are with their wives and some of their children. Together they fathered 22 children. They died on the same day in 1874. Chang contracted pneumonia and died in his sleep, Eng died hours later.

Chang and Eng Bunker. Frederick Hill Meserve’s Historical Portraits (MS Am 2242)

This is just one of the many fascinating letters in the Harvard Theatre collection. For more on Chang and Eng see:

Arthur Whittlesey Towne Papers on Conjoined Twins (MS Thr 580).

Human Curiosity Prints, Playbills, Broadsides and Other Printed Material, 1695-1937 (MS Thr 736).

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to Krista Ferrante, Project Archivist, for contributing this post.]

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