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Freaks Excerpt: from Chapter Five, “Look Ma, Three Hands”

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Siamese TwinsDouble-bodied people are perhaps the most remarkable of all freaks. They represent legal, religious (do they have two souls or one?) and psychological problems, as well as being incredibly grotesque. They are twins–or sometimes triplets–who did not divide. The best known are the so-called Siamese twins, twins connected by a bond of flesh. Often the twins are not two distinct people. They may be divided at the waist or may have two heads or two faces or four legs or have a body growing out of the twins’ chest or any other combination. Sometimes united twins can be separated by an operation, but more often it is impossible without killing one or both.

As is to be expected when two people are chained together for life and in addition frequently have conflicting temperaments, united twins often quarrel. This causes weird and rather pitiful situations. A famous pair of united twins was the Scottish brothers who lived in the court of James III in the late 1400s. The brothers were divided at the waist with two bodies and one pair of legs. This type of divided twins is called dicepahlus. The twins were born near Glasgow and were brought to the court at an early age, living there for twenty-eight years. They used to sing duets, one singing tenor and the other bass. They did not get along well together and often had fights, one set of arms against the other. There is no record of who won.

Siamese Twins, NudeAn even more grotesque and tragic case was Edward Mordake, a remarkably handsome young man who was gifted as a musician and a scholar. In addition, he was heir to a peerage. One would think that Edward have everything going for him and so he did–with one exception. On the back of his head he had the head of another face. It was said to be that of a girl. The head was functional, though it could not eat or speak. The eyes moved and followed the motions of anyone in the room. The head could also laugh and cry. Edward became obsessed with his “devil twin,” as he called it. He demanded that it be removed even if the operation killed him, but no doctor would undertake the delicate surgery involved. At last, Edward shut himself up in a suite of rooms, refusing to see anyone. He claimed that at night the face would whisper awful things to him in his sleep, “such things as they only speak of in hell.” Unable to stand the strain, he killed himself at age twenty-three.

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