"The Two-Headed Nightingale" – Millie & Christine McCoy

El Paso Daily Herald 20 Aug. 1898
1886 ad for “The Two-Headed Nightingale”


While researching birth anomalies throughout history I came across an article on conjoined twins Millie and Christine McCoy, who have been well-documented but until this time were unknown to me. The article, “An Amiable Pair” referred to Millie and Christine as a “two-headed freak” and a “freak of nature.” (Read this disclaimer about terminology found in the old papers here.) This article mentioned that Millie and Christine, African-Americans who were about 40 in 1898, were very intelligent, able to speak several foreign languages, and were worth around half a million dollars. That was an astounding accumulation of wealth for anyone in 1898, and extremely impressive for the McCoy twins.

Millie and Christine were born in 1851 to slaves of a North Carolina blacksmith. It wouldn’t be long before they were ripped from the arms of their parents and sold for the first time in infancy to a man from South Carolina, where they were put on exhibition for the public due to their unique physical condition. They were treated as a commodity and bought, sold, and even stolen several more times over the years, “displayed” in fairs and museums in the United States as well as in Britain. More about their career, lives, and death can be read here. I found it interesting that after slavery ended, the twins and other family members decided to stay with their former owner, Mr. Smith, with him now acting as the twins’ manager.

St. Paul Daily Globe [Minn.] 10 May 1886

Omaha Daily Bee 23 Oct. 1904
Image c.1890s from Wikipedia Commons

When the twins died on October 8, 1904 from tuberculosis, the article, “Twin Freak Dies; One Body, 2 Heads, 4 Arms, 4 Legs” appeared in New York’s The Evening World on October 10.

“Millie Christine and Christine Millie Were Exhibited in All Parts of the World.
Born in Slavery, They Were Sold to a Museum for $40,000 Before the War.
     Millie Christine and Christine Millie are dead. Word came to-day from Wilmington, N.C. that the famous “twins” had passed away at their home near Whiteville, Columbus County, Millie dying two hours before Christine. They were about sixty years of age.
     So pass the most famous freaks, or freak, if one must be finicky with his grammar, that ever delighted the heart of a showman. Born in slavery, sold to a museum man for $40,000 before the war, kidnapped and hidden in Europe for two years, subsequently recovered by their original owner and exhibited “before crowned heads,” as the posters truly stated, these negro women, “Siamesed” at the waist, lived a life of adventure and romance hardly approached by any other of their race. They died wealthy, according to popular belief in North Carolina, and they died happy.
     Millie Christine and Christine Millie were born with but one body below the upper part of the trunk, but with two sets of shoulders and arms, two heads and two pairs of legs. Their respective brains acted independently, each upper half of the single body had a well defined personality, and there was none of the common aspect of abnormality or idiocy, such as most freaks exhibit in their well-formed features.
     The invaluable twins were stolen from a museum in Philadelphia, where they were being exhibited by their purchaser when they were less than six years old. After two years the owner heard of their presence in London-it was not easy to conceal the whereabouts of such a caprice of nature-and he recovered them. Thereafter began their long life of touring the large cities of the world, to be stared at for a price by people of almost every land. South America and South Africa, Australia and the Orient had a chance to see the famous twins.
     Their demeanor on the stage was of studied politeness-a pose,
which made the incongruity of their enforced companionship all the more striking. Each addressed the other, in public at least, with the careful prefix “Miss” before the name. One would speak to the other in Spanish and be answered in Russian while the audience stared, fascinated. When they danced the most exacting hick at the county fair was satisfied that he had got his money’s worth.
     The sisters used to say that there was only one flaw in their happy lives. Neither dared to fall in love for fear that the other would not fancy the chosen swain. So neither married, there was too much risk of family jars involved.”
Millie and Christine were buried at Welches Creek Cemetery in Columbus County, North Carolina.