Taxidermy is considered an art for practitioners and collectors. For others, it’s the unnatural preservation and distortion of life. However one views the subject, it is still oddly compelling to look at.
Curious History: The Life of Millie and Christine McKay
Millie and Christine McKoy were born, joined at the base of the spine, on July 11, 1851, the eighth and ninth child of Monimia and Jacob McKay, slaves owned by a blacksmith in the small town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. At only ten months old, they were sold along with their mother to a showman, who in turn sold them on to two more men in the same trade, looking to make a quick buck. It seems to have been around this time that their last name was changed to McKoy.
While still very young, the McKoy twins were kidnapped at an exhibition in New Orleans by yet another showman, who exhibited them another year, including at Barnum’s American Museum. Sold yet again in 1855, this time to a professor, they ended up in Canada, and then Europe, where former owner Joseph Smith reunited them with their mother and brought them back to the United States.
Joseph Smith and his wife educated the McKoy twins, focusing on music and languages. The girls had a gift for singing and could soon also speak in four or five different tongues. Yet, while to some extent it is true that the sisters enjoyed a successful career in museums and the circus, it should not be forgotten that they were also exploited since they were young girls – and, as female slaves, more so even than the other conjoined twins listed here. Indeed, they are held to have been overworked, beaten, raped and sexually abused – including, it’s suggested, during the numerous medical ‘examinations’ they had to endure.
Free at last following the Emancipation Proclamation, in the 1880s the McKoy sisters retired from show business and went back to their hometown in North Carolina, where they bought a small farm. However, after a fire that weakened their health, the twins’ lives were claimed by tuberculosis, contracted by Millie, and died on October 8, 1912. They lived until the ripe old age of 61, the oldest female conjoined twins to date.