During their heyday, Eng and Chang Bunker enjoyed stardom rivaling that of top show business figures today, says a New York professor who’ll give a presentation on the Siamese Twins Friday in Mount Airy.
“At the time that Eng and Chang were living, they were probably the most well-traveled celebrities of their time,” Cynthia Wu said Tuesday of the pair who settled in Surry County after touring with P.T. Barnum’s circus.
“So I think it makes them the equivalent of somebody like Madonna, except for being in the 19th century,” added Wu, who has written a recently published book about the twins. “More people saw them than any other celebrity.”
Wu will share her fascination with the Bunkers, a product of 13 years of research, during a program Friday at 3 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Museum Theatre, located below the Andy Griffith Museum on Rockford Street. The presentation will be free and open to the public.
“I’m going to give a brief overview of my book,” Wu added, “and the ways in which American artists and authors have been influenced by Eng and Chang.”
Whereas much has been written chronicling the twins’ unusual talents, intelligence, fame, far-flung travels and other traits, Wu has taken a different approach with her book, “Chang and Eng Reconnected — The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture.”
Her interest focuses on the fact that in literature, cultural studies and art the twins have been used to represent the quintessential American struggle between such qualities as otherness and sameness, or unity and diversity. These concepts historically have played out in popular cultural icons, the author says.
Wu, a cultural scholar who holds a PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of New York at Buffalo. She specializes in Asian-American and comparative ethnic studies, and is now working on another book about military service among Asian-Americans.
The professor added Tuesday that she has long been intrigued by how two boys from a poor area of Thailand were able to achieve such international fame.
Reunion Shaping Up
Cynthia Wu’s visit to Mount Airy later this week won’t be her first. She has attended the annual Eng and Chang Bunker reunion about five times, the last in 2011. The 24th reunion will be held Saturday at First Baptist Church, with Thailand’s ambassador to the United States to be a special guest.
“She is a pretty good authority” on the Siamese Twins, Zack Blackmon Jr., a reunion organizer who is a great-great-grandson of Eng Bunker, said of Wu.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about her,” Blackmon said, calling Wu’s upcoming visit “a big plus.”
Her book on Eng and Chang Bunker is available in hardback, paperback and as an electronic book. She will have a limited number of volumes at Friday’s presentation to give to descendants of the twins and also will be available for a book signing.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.