White Plains Baptist Church Cemetery

White Plains Baptist Church Cemetery

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By the third day of our recent road trip, my mom had correctly guessed a few of our "surprise" stops. Mostly she'd guess "Muffler Man?" or "something big?" which were both very good guesses, if you know what kind of roadside stops I tend to favor. As we were driving through rural, northwest North Carolina my mom correctly guessed that our next stop was a cemetery. I'm the world's worst liar/actress, so I didn't try to pretend she wasn't right, but I did tell her that she would never be able to guess who was buried at our destination.

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When we pulled up to the White Plains Baptist Church, in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the surprise was prematurely revealed by a historical marker outside of the church, declaring it to be the burial place of Chang and Eng Bunker. Born in 1811, near Bangkok in the Kingdom of Siam (modern-day Thailand), the brothers were connected at the chest by a small piece of cartilage. Their livers were fused, but their bodies functioned independently from one another. In 1829, they were spotted by a Scottish merchant, who paid their parents in exchange for allowing him to exhibit the twins around the world as a curiosity.

The term "Siamese Twins" has been replaced by the more PC (and scientifically descriptive) "conjoined twins," and if Chang and Eng were born today they would have been easily separated and perhaps gone on to lead very different lives. While touring the country in 1839, Chang and Eng fell in love with North Carolina and purchased a 110-acre farm in Traphill. They owned several slaves, married local sisters and became naturalized American citizens. They had a bed built for the four of them, and Chang fathered 12 children, while Eng fathered 10 or possibly 11.

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In 1874, Chang died in his sleep of a cerebral blood clot and despite the fact that Eng was in good health otherwise, he died just three hours later (probably of shock). The twins share a headstone with their wives and it's estimated that there are still approximately 1,500 descendants of the twins living around Mount Airy today. The churchyard is full of Bunkers, including two sons who were Confederate soldiers in the Civil War and a grandson, who fought in World War I.

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The church and cemetery are built on a hill with a picturesque view, and it's small but filled with wonderful old, mossy stones and statues. It's a beautiful place to spend eternity, and I hope the twins found the peace in death that seemed to allude them in life.

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