by Jennifer Bean Bower
It was January 31, 1874, and the grey skies of winter shrouded the town of Salem, North Carolina. On Main Street, a wagon sat in front of Henry Lineback’s photography studio waiting to be loaded. Frigid air and intermittent pellets of ice kept most residents inside, but Lineback had been “called into service” by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and would have to brave the bitter weather to fulfill his task.
Physicians from the prestigious institution had passed through Salem the day before. They were on their way to Mount Airy, North Carolina, to examine the dead bodies of Eng and Chang Bunker—the original Siamese twins. The doctors had arranged for a photographer to meet them in Mount Airy, but received word he was unable to make the trip. For that reason, they approached Lineback, asked if he would make the journey and offered him a fair amount of money to do so. Curiosity, a desire to serve the medical community, or the chance to earn extra income, prompted Lineback to say yes. The men were no doubt relieved he had accepted their proposal, but likely knew little about him or his photography skills.
A Pioneer Photographer
Born in Salem, North Carolina, in 1839, Henry Alexander Lineback made his debut the same year as photography. He attended the Salem Boys’ School and at the completion of his studies chose to learn the trade of a cabinetmaker. Although he excelled in his chosen vocation, it did not hold his interest. Photography, on the other hand, did.
Lineback’s uncle introduced photography to Salem in 1843 and later opened a studio in his home. It was there Lineback first experimented with photography and developed a love for the art. In 1860, he acquired his uncle’s photography equipment and operated the studio on a part-time basis.
When the Civil War began, Lineback was rejected for service due to an undocumented disability or illness. As a result, he remained in Salem, continued to work as a cabinetmaker and waited for an opportunity to further his study of photography.
Throughout the war, Lineback made and sold photograph cases. Created of wood and leather, the hinged boxes protected photographs and allowed them to be displayed. As a skilled cabinetmaker, Lineback probably found the cases easy to make. And, as documented in the June 6, 1862, edition of the People’s Press newspaper, he indeed found them profitable.
A NEW ENTERPRISE.—We had the pleasure of examining, a few days since, a lot
of Daguerreotype Cases, manufactured by our young friend, Henry Lineback, of this
place. The cases are neatly and durably made, and finished in good style. The best
recommendation we can give is, that he can scarcely supply the demand, always
having orders ahead.
When the war was over, Lineback left Salem and traveled to Pennsylvania where he studied various photographic processes. The dates and duration of his trip are unknown, but he was documented in Philadelphia in 1866, when his likeness was captured at the studio of Charles L. Marston. It is believed that Marston was one of the photographers under which he trained.
The next year, Lineback returned home and asked permission of the Salem Congregations Board of Trustees to construct a photography studio on the north end of his father’s house, which was located on Main Street. The Board agreed and construction began. At its completion, the studio received a favorable review in the February 26, 1869, edition of the People’s Press. The announcement read:
Lineback’s New Photograph Gallery.
Our young friend, Mr. Henry Lineback, has for some time occupied his new
Photograph Gallery, on Main Street, one door below the Bank. Mr. Lineback has
had considerable experience and devotes his whole attention to the beautiful art of
copying the “human face divine.” His pictures compare favorably with any we have
seen. The rooms are neatly arranged, and the public will find every convenience to be
met with in a well-appointed establishment. Those that are comely will of course get
a handsome picture, and even those who are particularly hard-featured, need not stand
back, as the instruments are warranted not to crack.
Lineback’s studio thrived and he was soon in need of an assistant—particularly one that could tint portraits. A young woman named Susan Elizabeth James met the requirements and was hired prior to August 1870.
Taking portraits was Lineback’s main source of income, but his time with the camera was not limited to the studio. In fact, he often carted his equipment around town—and into other communities—where he captured views of people, places, and events. Because his out of doors photographs were so exceptional, they were frequently exhibited and sold.
Lineback received patronage from near and far but probably never imagined that on a cold day in 1874, a team of men from The College of Physicians of Philadelphia would ask him to take post-mortem photographs of Eng and Chang Bunker.
The deceased men were famous and Lineback was aware of their conjoined state. He was also mindful of their passing, as the People’s Press ran the lengthy article, “DEATH OF THE SIAMESE TWINS,” on January 22, 1874.
“the greatest curiosities of nature ever known”
Eng and Chang Bunker were born in Siam—now Thailand—on May 11, 1811. The twins were connected at the sternum by a narrow, flexible band of cartilage, but they were not debilitated by it. At an early age they learned to synchronize their movements, which allowed them to run, play, and participate in most childhood activities.
A Scottish merchant named Robert Hunter met the twins in 1824, and knew right away the public would pay to view them. He desired to take the boys to America and put them on display, but his request was denied. Years later, Hunter partnered with Abel Coffin, a sea captain from Massachusetts, and asked again. After a series of skillful negotiations, the boys’ mother and the King of Siam said yes. At the age of seventeen, Eng and Chang boarded the ship Sachem and set sail for Boston in 1829. Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace, in their book The Two, said the twins could not have known “that they were also sailing into legend.”
Newspapers across the country published stories of Eng and Chang’s arrival to America. Words such as “monsters” and “freaks” were occasionally used to describe them. Their advertisements, however, were void of sideshow lingo, as the brothers were resolved to present themselves in a dignified manner. A notice that appeared in the September 18, 1829, edition of The Evening Post read:
WONDERFULL [sic] NATURAL CURIOSITY—The SIAMESE TWIN BROTHERS
will be exhibited at the Grand Saloon, Masonic Hall, every day (Sundays excepted)
from 9 till 2 in the morning, and from 6 to 9 in the evening…They are connected to
each other by an elastic ligament at the extremity of the breast-bone, about 5 inches
in length and 3 in breadth, are remarkably intelligent, of very lively disposition, and
are parfectly [sic] contented with their close connexion [sic].They have been
pronounced by the first medical men to be the greatest curiosities of nature ever
known. Ladies may be assured that there is nothing the least exceptionable in the
exhibition, and that many of the first respectability have already visited them.
Admittance 50 cents—children half price.
During an “exhibition,” Eng and Chang gave lectures, walked around on stage and engaged in activities such as badminton. Doctors were often in attendance and frequently examined the twins’ connecting ligament. The question that perplexed the medical community was whether or not the two could be safely separated. The general consensus was no.
After several months in New York, the twins departed for England and embarked on a fourteen-month tour. The young men who once sold duck eggs to support their family, had become world travelers and international celebrities. As a matter of fact, Eng and Chang were so famous that the term “Siamese Twins” became synonymous with conjoined twins.
When the brothers turned twenty-one in 1832, they were no longer bound to their manager. This occurrence gave them the freedom to determine their own schedule, assist with promotion, and maintain a larger share of their profits. After touring the Eastern United States, Cuba and Western Europe, the twins returned to New York and showcased themselves at Peale’s Museum. Advertisements for the establishment revealed other “interesting” exhibitions that could be seen in addition to the “Siamese Twins.” They included “Major Stevens, the American Dwarf” and a “living ANACONDA SERPENT, of Bengal.”
At Peale’s Museum the brothers met and befriended Doctor James Calloway of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. When the Doctor learned that Eng and Chang enjoyed outdoor sports, particularly hunting and fishing, he invited them to his home. The twins accepted his request and arrived in Wilkesboro in 1839. That year, the two made Wilkes County their home, began using the surname “Bunker” and became naturalized citizens of the United States—the first Asians to do so.
During the course of their exhibitions, the twins amassed a “comfortable fortune.” In 1840, the brothers purchased 150-acres in the Traphill community of Wilkes County. They became farmers and courted two young sisters. Their pursuit of Sarah and Adelaide Yates, however, was met with opposition. By all accounts, Eng and Chang were “considered excellent businessmen and good citizens.” Yet, when it came to courtship, the women’s parents—David and Nancy Yates—were not pleased with their daughters’ choices.
Eng and Chang were disheartened, but Sarah and Adelaide were not. They were determined to marry the brothers despite their parent’s objections. When David and Nancy discovered that their daughters planned to elope, they changed their minds and allowed them to be wed. On April 13, 1843, Eng married Sarah and Chang married Adelaide. Their marriages were fruitful, as Sarah bore twelve children and Adelaide had ten.
Years later, the twins purchased a large tract of land in the White Plains community of Surry County. There, they built two homes. According to the Surry Arts Council, Eng and Chang “split their time between the two families with a rigidly followed system of three days in one house followed by three days in the other.” Each was the master of his own home.
The twins’ families and farms prospered until the Civil War. At its end, Eng and Chang were financially strained. Determined to regain what they had lost, the two—often in the company of family— returned to a world of tours and exhibitions. But their return to the spotlight did not last. In 1870, on the way home from Liverpool, England, Chang suffered a stroke.
From that point on, Chang’s health continued to decline, and on Monday, January 12, 1874, he endured coughing spells and chest pain. Doctor William Hollingsworth, a physician from Mount Airy, attended Chang and diagnosed his condition as bronchitis. Eng was unaffected by the illness.
As the days passed, Chang found it harder to breathe and sleep. The pains in his chest increased and a chill latched hold of his body. In the early morning hours of Saturday, January 17, Eng awoke but Chang did not. Upon seeing his dead brother, Eng cried out “I am going!”
Family members rushed to their loved ones while one of the children hurried to retrieve Doctor Hollingsworth. The twins had long decided that if one should die, the ligament would be cut to give the other a chance at life. By the time the doctor arrived, Eng was dead and there was no longer a reason to separate them. At the age of 62, the “Siamese Twins” were no more. “They had come into this world as one,” said Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace, and “they departed…as one.”
In life, Eng and Chang were an oddity that could be viewed for a price. In death, they risked being taken from the ground and sold to the highest bidder. Because of this fear, Sarah and Adelaide buried their husbands in the cellar of Eng’s house.
“Photo…Contribution To Surgery”
When Doctor William Pancoast of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia learned of Eng and Chang’s death, he asked Sarah and Adelaide’s permission to embalm and examine the bodies. Doctor Hollingsworth thought the idea to be a good one and persuaded the women to say yes.
Doctor Pancoast, along with Doctors Harrison Allen and Thomas Andrews, began their journey south. They arrived in Salem, North Carolina, on January 30, 1874, where they secured the photographic services of Henry Lineback and enjoyed a short rest. Afterward, they continued onward toward Mount Airy and arrived the next day.
In Salem, Lineback and Augustus Fogle—a “famous stage driver”—loaded a wagon with glass plates, chemicals, a hefty camera, and other photographic supplies. Once filled, it was remarked that the wagon held “enough baggage to serve the needs of a trans-continental voyage.”
Around noon on Saturday, Jan. 31, two horses were hitched to the overburdened wagon and Lineback and Fogle departed Salem. Treacherous elements and fragile cargo forced Fogle to drive the team at a slow and steady pace. An account of the men’s “perilous journey,” was published by the Twin-City Sentinel on October 24, 1925. The article, “PHOTO BY H. A. [LINEBACK] CONTRIBUTION TO SURGERY,” revealed:
…The weather was extremely cold, and the two men had a decidedly unpleasant
trip. They carried what was believed to be an abundant supply of coats and wraps,
including heavy rubber raincoats, but before they reached their destination, the apparel
had proved sadly insufficient…The night was exceedingly dark, and cold beyond
description, the road offered difficult traveling, and slow progress was made…
In addition to the physical discomforts of the trip, there were surely emotional vexations as well. Lineback knew the twins had been in the grave for fifteen days and that no preservative had been used. What would he see? What would he smell? What if his supplies did not survive the trip? A million questions must have plagued his mind.
On Sunday, February 1, Lineback and Fogle reached Mount Airy. After a brief respite, they accompanied the physicians to Eng’s house. The doctors discussed their intentions with the widows and then exhumed the bodies of Eng and Chang. The uncovering was detailed in the article “THE LAST OF CHANG AND ENG,” which ran in the February 12, 1874, edition of the People’s Press. It said:
In the midst of a deep silence, and with great solemnity, the earth was then removed…
and the coffin was exposed…and after being placed in a proper position the cover was
taken off. All the members of the commission and several others present bent eagerly
over the coffin, the first sensation they experienced being a cadaveric odor, which…was
not at all repulsive…The features of Chang were partially discolored, those of Eng
being natural…they seemed to be in a very good state of preservation…
After the bodies were disrobed, Lineback began to work. He took full-length photographs of the twins and then focused on the ligament. The photography session took longer than expected, as the interior of the house was quite dim. According to reports, Lineback’s photographs did not provide clear images and only one could be deemed successful. Nevertheless, all images were given to the physicians and Lineback was paid for his service.
The physicians found themselves in a similar circumstance. The structure of the ligament was more complicated than they had imagined and the home did not provide facilities necessary for an autopsy. They therefore decided that the bodies should be taken to The College of Physicians in Philadelphia for an appropriate and adequate examination.
On Monday, February 2, Lineback, Fogle, the doctors, and the bodies of Eng and Chang, left Mount Airy and headed to Salem. It was said that the procession of men, wagons, and coffin, gave the appearance of a “funeral procession” and “attracted the attention of people all along the route.” By Tuesday afternoon, the “cortège” had arrived in Salem. Lineback and Fogle—who were no doubt glad to be home—unpacked their wagon, as the physicians continued their trek north.
When the bodies of Eng and Chang arrived in Philadelphia, an autopsy was performed in The Mütter Museum. The examination, according to the Museum, “revealed that the band connecting the twins included portions of the peritoneal cavities of each twin and that their livers were joined by a thin strip of liver tissue.” As to the question of whether or not Eng and Chang could have been safely separated, the answer was no. The twins would have died from blood loss.
When the physicians completed their examination, the bodies of Eng and Chang were returned to Sarah and Adelaide. Following their burial at Chang’s house, the twins were not disturbed again until 1917, when they were reinterred at the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery in Mount Airy.
Lineback continued to operate his photography studio long after the trip to Surry County. In 1876, he married his assistant and together they had two children—Lucy and Robert Frederick. By 1889, Lineback had moved his entire operation to the corner of Fifth and Liberty streets in Winston. He worked at that location until 1922, when he retired at the age of eighty-three. A notice of his death was printed in the December 31, 1932, edition of the Twin-City Sentinel and said “Outstanding in his recollection and one of his fondest stories during his declining years was his experience in making post-mortem photographs of Eng and Chang Bunker.”
A photographer from Salem became connected to the Siamese twins on a cold winter day in 1874. During his life, Henry Alexander Lineback was known as the man who braved hazardous conditions to take photographs of two famous men. In regard to those images, it is unknown whether any survive. An archivist at the Mütter Museum believes it is likely but cannot be sure.
Lineback’s legacy, however, is not related to the Siamese twins. Instead, it is a large collection of extraordinary photographs that he took in Salem and Winston from the 1860s to the 1920s. Those photographs provide a visual record for which “the city of Winston-Salem is indebted.”
In memory of Henry Alexander Lineback 1839-1932; and Eng and Chang Bunker 1811-1874.