Two works of art recently donated to the Mount Airy Visitors Center and Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce will give tourists some new things to think about when perusing the center.
Betty Blackmon and Zack Blackmon Jr. recently presented the city of Mount Airy with a portrait of Siamese twins Eng and Chang Bunker along with the statue of an adorned Thai elephant.
The elephant was a gift from Saroj Thanasunti, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, on behalf of the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C.
It honors the city’s recent move to become a sister city with Samut, Songkhram, the birthplace of Eng and Chang Bunker.
Zack Blackmon Jr., who pitched the sister city idea to the board, indicated that an official relationship could be mutually beneficial for tourism both locally and abroad, where the twins are also celebrated.
“Elephants are good luck, looked at as a blessing,” Blackmon said. “That was something they wanted the city to have.”
The portrait is a gift from Betty Bunker Blackmon.
“She did it on behalf of the family,” Zack Blackmon Jr. said, noting that his family are descendants of Eng Bunker.
“It would be something she could feel proud of,” he said. “The twins were a very important part of Mount Airy.”
Jessica Icenhour Roberts, director of marketing and tourism, thanked the Blackmons.
“We are ecstatic,” she said. “They have both worked very hard to get this picture and elephant into our visitors center,” Roberts said, adding that she intends to have a plaque made for Betty Blackmon and family to hang in the center.
Many visitors enter the center with curiosity about the conjoined brothers who settled locally in the late 1830s.
“Visitors always ask questions about the twins when they come in,” Roberts said. “Now they have more of a visual of them.”
Recent research has revealed that the Bunker brothers were the first Buddhists to become U.S. citizens and were the first interracial marriage, Roberts said.
Zack Blackmon Jr., said that the twins were reportedly more famous in their time than Abraham Lincoln, so much so that General Sherman was rumored to have avoided Mount Airy due to his knowledge of the twins.
“It plays into how we project the community,” Roberts said. “We’ve got Donna Fargo, we’ve got Mayberry, we’ve got the wine. Now we’ve got the twins in the visitors center. The elephant is just an added bonus.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.