LINKED-TOGETHER FOR LIFE.
Because my Father worked for the Railroad, everyone in my family could ride the train free---with a Lifetime Rail Pass. Oh, how I loved to ride the train, eat on the train….and sleep on the train! From 1956-1958, I attended college near St. Louis, Missouri and was able to ride the train home on weekends and holidays.
It was one-of-those-times when-- boarding my train back to Pine Bluff was delayed for hours. The Barnum and Bailey Circus Train had derailed outside St. Louis’s Union Station and passengers connecting to all major trains---traveling in all directions---were stranded until the tracks were cleared.
Everyone in the station was crowded around one section of the station where the local press was conducting Television and Radio Interviews with Train Executives and---some of the “celebrities” from the Circus Train. Somehow, I found myself seated across from an interview being conducted with two women I’d talked to earlier in the Ladies Room.
I’d try to help the obviously-confused women find toilet paper and--to use the Tampon Dispenser. I hadn’t noticed anything particularly-different about the Ladies, although they appeared to be twins who looked alike, dressed alike, and seemed very self-conscious. And--I noted--they both visited the “stall” together which I attributed to their apparent shyness. How was I to know I was in the presence of the “FAMOUS” Hilton Sisters?!?!? At the time, they were just six years older than my mother.
Daisy and Violet Hilton--The Hilton Sisters were born in England in 1908. Their 19-year-old mother worked in a bar and sold the twins to her boss, who used them to make money—exploiting them around the world. They gained recognition in Germany, the U.S. and Australia and even tap danced with Bob Hope in a vaudeville act. They gained independence in 1931 and using their “forever-joined-bodies” to attract attention, dubbed themselves the Hilton Sisters.
After years of appearances, performances, marriages and divorces, the sisters ended-up in Florida, where they operated a hamburger stand. Sadly, their uniqueness only lasted a few months before they were, once again, broke. So, they found yet-another manager and once-again traveled with a circus. But, Circus Freaks were no-longer drawing crowds, especially when the “freaks” were nothing more than aging twins who looked normal. Their last appearance was in North Carolina where their manager dumped them--- without money, shelter, or a plan.
A sympathetic grocery store owner felt sorry for the destitute sisters and offered them employment and a small apartment. Several years later, in 1969, the Hilton Sisters died at the age of sixty-- from the Asian flu. Locals came-together to bury the sisters in a “borrowed” cemetery plot in Charlotte, North Carolina under a large Tombstone bearing the name: “THOMPSON. ” An old and very- large family plot, it only contained one occupant--- that of an American Soldier who’d died in World War II.
Timing is everything. Today, I believe the twins could have easily been separated at birth. They appeared to be joined at the hips by a section of skin. HOW DIFFERENT their lives might have been if they hadn't been raised as freaks. Perhaps their lives would have had a happy ending--if someone had truly-loved them and treated them like two, normal women.