MILLIE-CHRISTINE – The Two-Headed Nightingale

MILLIE-CHRISTINE - The Two-Headed Nightingale

Millie and Christine were born into slavery on July 11, 1851 in the town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. The girls were joined at the spine and their owner, a blacksmith named Jabez McKay, was not sure what to do with the girls. Their parents, Monimia and Jacob, had previously sired seven children but clearly the twins would be of little use to McKay due to their bizarre appearance and sickly constitution. Eventually McKay opted to sell the eight-month-old girls and their mother to Carolinian showman John Pervis for $1000.

Pervis began exhibiting Millie and Christine immediately but within four years the girls were sold to showmen Joseph Pearson Smith and Brower and then kidnapped. The kidnappers exhibited the twins privately, mostly to members of the medical community, for over three years while Smith and Brower frantically searched for their investment. They eventually located Millie and Christine while they were on exhibit in Birmingham, England. The law became involved in the situation and, as slavery was illegal in England, the girls were released into the custody of their mother. She, however, had no idea how to proceed with the girls in a foreign country and as a result she gave custody and ‘ownership’ back to Smith.

While Smith continued to exhibit Mille and Christine, he found the public was not very interested. At the time, the anatomical novelty of conjoined twins simply was not enough to capture public attention. Smith decided to develop Millie and Christine as a performing act. Furthermore, he endeavoured to make the girls as extraordinary in skill as they were in appearance. To that end, he and his wife tutored the girls in music and languages. Millie and Christine were taught etiquette, social graces and were given music lessons. It came to pass that the girls developed impressive singing abilities and their singing prowess soon became the focal point of their careers.

As ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ the conjoined girls started to gain a remarkable reputation. While Millie was a contralto and Christine a soprano, the girls were able to blend and harmonize their voices in incredibly appealing ways. By 1860, Millie and Christine were on the cusp of stardom.

In 1862 Smith died. The girls were willed to his son Joseph Jr. and it was Joseph who catapulted the girls to stardom by using a clever bit of showmanship.

Throughout much of their life, Millie and Christine were often considered one person. Due to their shared body, it was often unclear if the girls were legally and physically a single being or individuals. The girls themselves often referred to themselves in the singular, using ‘I’ in the place of ‘we’. Joseph Jr. saw opportunity in this confusion and opted to advertise the girls from a new perspective.

The girls became Millie-Christine, a girl with two heads, four arms and four legs.

The concept of such an incredible phenomenon drew immediate crowds and Millie-Christine enjoyed immediate and world-wide popularity. Furthermore, it was the singing of ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ that quickly gained predominance over appearance and Millie-Christine eventually performed for European royalty, including the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria. Mille-Christine became renowned for singing, playing the guitar and piano in unison and dancing the waltz in front of thousands of people in the greatest halls and venues of the world.

Soon, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and Millie-Christine was free. During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than $250,000.

Millie-Christine preformed until the age of fifty-eight. Once retired, Millie-Christine became Millie and Christine once again. The sisters built a home in Columbus, North Carolina where they lived quietly until their passing on October 8, 1912. Millie went first, succumbing to tuberculosis, and her sister followed seventeen hours later.

They were sixty-one, the oldest conjoined twins on record.

To learn more about Millie-Christine purchase Millie-Christine : Fearfully And Wonderfully Made by Joanne Martell.


Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

15 Comments

  • Reply February 7, 2008

    sir jorge

    this is truly fascinating.

  • Reply February 11, 2008

    Bailee

    That must be horrifying to have your other half die of a terrible disease & you’re still alive… This was an amazing read, what a remarkable time period.

  • Reply May 4, 2008

    Jenna

    i agree with bailee. i found myself wondering what would happen in that situation before the end of the article. what if one dies? do they both die? if not… what do you do? carry around half of yourself dead? that’s just fascinating… and horrifying.

  • Reply May 28, 2008

    Anonymous

    @jenna: what do you do? carry around half of yourself dead?

    they weren’t the same person. they were 2 different people, joined at the back. it’s a condition that some people are born with. people like that are often reffered to as “siamese twins” or “conjoined twins” although there are different forms of siamese twins besides being joined at the back.

  • Reply May 28, 2008

    J. Tithonus Pednaud

    When one goes, the other shortly follows as one heart can only pump so much and often blood. Often a stroke takes the second as blood from the second body begins to congeal and clot or otherwise poison the body.

    Generally, both will pass within hours of each other.

    As for conjoined twins being two people. Legally, the often aren’t considered as such.

  • Reply September 10, 2008

    Claire

    It sounds horrible to think of their own selves as one single person. It wasn’t an extra head or anything, they both had fully-grown bodies and organs. It was only the spine joining them together, wasn’t it?

    I also thought of the idea of one of them dying first, it trully seemed terrifying, but still kind of weird.

  • Reply October 26, 2008

    anonymous

    I have heard so much about these girls and would love to learn more about my cousins….this was an interesting thing to read

  • Reply April 28, 2010

    Mamimi

    That’s depressing…not only is your twin dead, right next to you, but then you have to sit there, looking at her…knowing you have mere hours left…

  • Reply November 5, 2010

    Kássia

    UAU! Fascinante, mas assustador é o fato de uma metade morrer e a outra permanecer viva. Se Christine não tivesse falecido 17 horas depois, carregaria o corpo de sua irmã pelo resto da vida? no mínimo, estranho. =0

  • [...] thehumanmarvels.com/?p=140 During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than 0,000. [...]

  • [...] manera rápida y sin dolor. Sin embargo, Christine sobrevivió a su hermana durante 17 horas. Vía: The Human Marvels El Karma existe. El jefe de patrullas de motociclistas de El Paso, en Texas, se encontraba en [...]

  • Reply September 24, 2011

    Sky Sukinaka

    It seems depressing to be sitting next to the person you’ve spent every moment of your life together and see her dead. Knowing that you’re next. It must have been a very painful final moments. Just imagining it makes me scared.

  • [...] thehumanmarvels.com/?p=140 During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than 0,000. [...]

  • Reply October 11, 2012

    Possum Maria Krazytess

    the poor thing, waiting 17 hours while her dead twin lay right next to her.

  • […] Millie and Christine McKoy were born in North Carolina in 1851, to a slave family owned by Jabez McKay. He sold the twins and their mother to showman John Pervis when they were eight months old. Pervis sold them to Joseph Pearson Smith and his partner named Brower. The twins were kidnapped by another exhibitor and only found three years later, in England. As the girls grew, they learned to sing in harmony at their shows. When their exhibitor Smith died in 1862, the twins were inherited by his son Joseph, Jr. who revamped the twins’ publicity. Instead of being exhibited as conjoined twins, they were advertised as one girl with two heads (and four arms and four legs). Billed as “The Two-headed Nightingale,” Millie and Christine were renamed Millie-Christine, as if they were one person. They sang, danced, and played musical instruments to great acclaim, and earned plenty of money on their own after slavery was abolished. They retired from show business at age 58, and settled in Columbus, North Carolina, becoming once again Millie and Christine. They lived to age 61, …read more […]

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