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Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Joanne Martell

John F. Blair, Publisher
$12.95 paperback
5 ½ x 8 ½     
294 pages
black-and-white photos throughout
Published in 2000

Born into slavery, joined at the lower spine, stolen from her parents in infancy, exhibited as a curiosity in North America and Europe, stripped naked and examined in every new town, freed from bondage on numerous occasions yet returned to her former circumstances nonetheless, Millie-Christine McKoy lived one of the most complex and difficult childhoods imaginable.

Even more remarkable is the way she turned out. Reunited with her family and brought under caring management, Millie-Christine became one of the most renowned performers of her day. While most African-Americans were kept ignorant in slavery and destitute after the Civil War, she grew fluent in five languages and was an accomplished pianist, singer, and yes, dancer who toured the world and entertained kings and queens.

Loved by most yet ridiculed as a monster by some, Millie-Christine was one of the most amazing people you've never heard of. Her story, told here in full for the first time, has the flavor of the side-show world in which she traveled—a world of giants, midgets, human skeletons, and bearded ladies, freaks with very human souls.


“Recounted simply as a historical narrative, the story of Millie-Christine McKoy's life is arresting. Born in slavery in North Carolina in 1851, the Siamese twins jointly known as Millie-Christine became world famous, first as a side-show attraction in the U.S. and then throughout Europe, where they conversed in five languages, sang, recited their own poems and appeared before royalty, including two command performances for Queen Victoria. Returning to the U.S. in 1882, they traveled for several years with a prestigious circus (receiving $25,000 a season) before settling down in 1884 in a large house they built in North Carolina on land they had bought for their father after he was freed from slavery 20 years earlier. Until their death in 1912, they did charity work and toured intermittently. Drawing on promotional material from Millie-Christine's shows, various legal records, newspaper reports and a memoir written by the twins, Martell presents a succinct and moving biography of a little-known subject in American history and popular culture that offers an intriguing . . . portrait of late 19th-century side-show and circus life in the U.S. and Europe. . . .”
Publishers Weekly
“Jabez McKay, a North Carolina blacksmith, owned a slave who gave birth to conjoined or Siamese twins. Each of the girls had two legs and arms but experienced common sensations from the pelvis area down. They faced away from each other and were of unequal size at birth. Christine weighed in at an estimated 12 pounds while the weaker Millie was only estimated to be five pounds. Before they were a year old they had been purchased and become lucrative moneymakers for a succession of owners. In the course of ‘her’ lifetime, Millie-Christine (referred to equally as often in the singular and in the plural) was presented before Queen Victoria three times, worked as part of P. T. Barnum's sideshow, performed throughout Europe and the U.S., and provided enough funds for ‘her’ father to purchase farmlands to support the rest of the family. When freed by Lincoln's declaration in 1863, the girls remained with their last owners, the Smith family, under whose management and care ‘she’ continued ‘her’ performing career. Mrs. Smith's tutelage enabled the girls to learn to read and write, to play the piano, sing and dance, and eventually speak five languages. This story offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of ‘freak show’ inhabitants in the 19th century. Photos and reproductions from the time, and the words of Millie and Christine bring the time period to life. These indomitable, remarkable, and courageous women will capture readers' hearts.”
School Library Journal
“This amazing, fascinating true tale deserves more attention than it has gotten from the press and review sources. Author Joanne Martell does a terrific job of not only telling Millie-Christine's story, but also of detailing the world she lived in. Much more interesting than the original Siamese twins Chang and Eng, her life crossed theirs and they even exhibited together for a time. Why their story survived in popular culture and hers is largely lost is a mystery. This is a remarkable story.”
Amazon.com reviewer