CIRCUS: Traveling circuses, once a massive entertainment phenomenon, are dwindling. The giant Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey closed in 2017.
Over the years, circuses had changed with the times, starting out with sideshows displaying “human oddities” before morphing into different kinds of entertainment.
The Doris Great Inter-Ocean Show visited Bradford on May 20, 1883. With it came Millie-Christine, “the famous two-headed lady.”
Millie-Christine McKoy was born into slavery in 1851 in North Carolina. She was actually a set of conjoined twins, connected at the lower spine and sharing a single pelvis. Each twin had two arms and two legs.
The twins attracted attention from the beginning. When they were 10-months old, the slave owner Jabez McCoy sold them to a showman who wanted to exhibit them. The twins eventually ended up with Joseph Pearson Smith, who hired them out to road shows as “The Carolina Twins.”
One of those showmen who hired the twins for his show kidnapped them, and took them to England where they were exhibited in private shows, mostly to the medical community.
Smith and the twins’ mother, Monemia, eventually found them and returned them to North Carolina. Smith reunited the girls’ parents and siblings.
When the novelty of the twins’ appearance wore off, Smith’s wife decided to educate the girls. They were taught several languages, and were trained to sing. After emancipation, the pair decided to stay with the Smiths.
For about 30 years, the twins continued to appear and perform in public, including for Queen Victoria. However, they were no longer a “sideshow oddity,” but were featured performers known for their singing abilities. Millie sang contralto, and Christine sang soprano.
While the twins often referred to themselves as one person, Millie-Christine, they were billed as the “Two-Headed Girl” or “Two-Headed Nightingale.”
For about two seasons, the pair took part in circuses including P.T. Barnum’s and the Doris Great Inter-Ocean show before retiring to North Carolina, wealthy enough to build a home on the property of their former owners, the Smiths.
More on the twins’ appearance in Bradford in a future column.