Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Millie-Christine - The Two-Headed Nightingale
Millie and Christine were born into slavery on July 11, 1851 in the town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. The girls were joined at the spine and their owner, a blacksmith named Jabez McKay, was not sure what to do with the girls. Their parents, Monimia and Jacob, had previously sired seven children but clearly the twins would be of little use to McKay due to their bizarre appearance and sickly constitution. Eventually McKay opted to sell the eight-month-old girls and their mother to Carolinian showman John Pervis for $1000.
Pervis began exhibiting Millie and Christine immediately but within four years the girls were sold to showmen Joseph Pearson Smith and Brower and then kidnapped. The kidnappers exhibited the twins privately, mostly to members of the medical community, for over three years while Smith and Brower frantically searched for their investment. They eventually located Millie and Christine while they were on exhibit in Birmingham, England. The law became involved in the situation and, as slavery was illegal in England, the girls were released into the custody of their mother. She, however, had no idea how to proceed with the girls in a foreign country and as a result she gave custody and 'ownership' back to Smith.
While Smith continued to exhibit Mille and Christine, he found the public was not very interested. At the time, the anatomical novelty of conjoined twins simply was not enough to capture public attention. Smith decided to develop Millie and Christine as a performing act. Furthermore, he endeavoured to make the girls as extraordinary in skill as they were in appearance. To that end, he and his wife tutored the girls in music and languages. Millie and Christine were taught etiquette, social graces and were given music lessons. It came to pass that the girls developed impressive singing abilities and their singing prowess soon became the focal point of their careers.
As ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ the conjoined girls started to gain a remarkable reputation. While Millie was a contralto and Christine a soprano, the girls were able to blend and harmonize their voices in incredibly appealing ways. By 1860, Millie and Christine were on the cusp of stardom.
In 1862 Smith died. The girls were willed to his son Joseph Jr. and it was Joseph who catapulted the girls to stardom by using a clever bit of showmanship.
Throughout much of their life, Millie and Christine were often considered one person. Due to their shared body, it was often unclear if the girls were legally and physically a single being or individuals. The girls themselves often referred to themselves in the singular, using ‘I’ in the place of ‘we’. Joseph Jr. saw opportunity in this confusion and opted to advertise the girls from a new perspective.
The girls became Millie-Christine, a girl with two heads, four arms and four legs.
The concept of such an incredible phenomenon drew immediate crowds and Millie-Christine enjoyed immediate and world-wide popularity. Furthermore, it was the singing of ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ that quickly gained predominance over appearance and Millie-Christine eventually performed for European royalty, including the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria. Mille-Christine became renowned for singing, playing the guitar and piano in unison and dancing the waltz in front of thousands of people in the greatest halls and venues of the world.
Soon, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and Millie-Christine was free. During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than $250,000.
Millie-Christine preformed until the age of fifty-eight. Once retired, Millie-Christine became Millie and Christine once again. The sisters built a home in Columbus, North Carolina where they lived quietly until their passing on October 8, 1912. Millie went first, succumbing to tuberculosis, and her sister followed seventeen hours later.
They were sixty-one, the oldest conjoined twins on record.