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TV celeb’s book has Eng, Chang chapter

Mention of Mount Airy on a national scale usually surrounds local native Andy Griffith and his celebrated television show — but in recent years he’s increasingly shared that stage with two other locals, Eng and Chang Bunker.

That includes a new book by CBS-TV correspondent Mo Rocca, titled “Mobituaries — Great Lives Worth Reliving,” in which a chapter is devoted to Eng and Chang, aka the original Siamese twins who lived here in the 1800s.

The “Mobituaries” reference relates to a regular segment on the “CBS News Sunday Morning” program featuring Rocca, an actor, journalist and humorist, which mirrors his longtime love of obituaries. It is a sometimes-irreverent and offbeat — but deeply researched — appreciation of people in the past who’ve fascinated Rocca, basically paying tribute to folks he believes didn’t get a proper send-off when they died.

That includes Eng and Chang Bunker, who stoked Rocca’s interest when he and a CBS crew covered a reunion of their descendants in July 2018 in Mount Airy.

This initially led to a “Mobituaries” feature on the twins on “CBS News Sunday Morning” in March 2019 and also a podcast on their exploits. They were born in Thailand, the former Siam, toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus and eventually settled locally to farm and raise families.

And now the Siamese twins are part of Rocca’s book, released in late 2019. They are highlighted in a chapter called “Death of an American Story, Chang and Eng Bunker (1811-1874).”

The Bunkers are among a number of other subjects in the collection, such as Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, who are highlighted due to their distinction of dying on the same day; Audrey Hepburn; Lawrence Welk; Billy Carter; and others including Thomas Paine, a Founding Father.

During a recent interview to promote his book, Rocca said that profiling live subjects is enjoyable. However, “dead people are a lot easier to deal with,” he joked concerning his efforts in writing about those who are deceased for a living.

“Still relevant”

The inclusion of Eng and Chang Bunker in Mo Rocca’s new book is being hailed by Tanya Jones of Mount Airy on multiple levels.

As the executive director of the Surry Arts Council, Jones applauds developments that reflect one of the arts organization’s goals of promoting tourism, through attractions relating to both Andy Griffith and the Siamese twins. She also has a personal interest due to being a great-great-granddaughter of Eng Bunker.

While the Mayberry mystique revolving about Griffith continues to draw many people to Mount Airy, Eng and Chang Bunker also have been in the spotlight recently through various TV programs and visits to the city by Thai officials. In addition, the Surry Arts Council is pursuing a project to build a museum devoted to the Siamese twins.

Rocca’s is not the only recent book to include Eng and Chang, coming on the heels of 2018’s “Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History,” authored by Harvard professor Yunte Huang. It was praised by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

“And a year later, another high-profile recognition is very significant,” Jones said of the book by Rocca which includes the Bunkers. “I think certainly for the arts council, it demonstrates that more than 200 years since their birth, they still have relevance and it also validates our pursuit of the Siamese twins museum.”

Jones added, “It doesn’t get better than that for us.”

The Surry Arts Council official said “Mobituaries” is drawing attention to the twins through other means, citing an appearance by Rocca earlier this month on “The Daily Show,” a TV series on the Comedy Central network hosted by Trevor Noah.

In that exchange, Noah said that when delving into the new book in preparation for Rocca’s presence, he found the chapter on Eng and Chang to be the most interesting and so did his mother.

During his July 2018 visit to Mount Airy, Rocca’s captivation with the Siamese twins was evident.

He acknowledged the “sideshow” aspect regarding their physical oddity — being joined at the sternum by a small band of cartilage — although other aspects of their lives were just as compelling.

“It ends up being a story about family, perseverance, respect and the American Dream,” Rocca said then, drawing a comparison with Mayberry, the fictional town based on Mount Airy which was popularized in “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“The true story that comes from this town is vastly more interesting,” Rocca said of Eng and Chang Bunker.

They symbolize issues of immigration, slavery, opportunity, struggles and success — the whole picture of what it means for some people to become Americans, the CBS correspondent said while in Mount Airy. “Basically, you get it all.”

Rocca expands on that in his book, discussing how one can ride in a Mayberry replica squad car while in town or tour the museum dedicated to Griffith’s career.

“But just downstairs from the Andy Griffith Museum, in the basement, there is another exhibit that tells a very different story,” says a passage describing a present effort to honor the conjoined twins.

The book continues by detailing how Eng and Chang “settled in this quiet hamlet more than a century before Sheriff Andy’s deputy, Barney Fife, ever locked himself in his own jail cell.

“Theirs is a complicated — and not always happy — story,” Rocca writes about the twins.

“But this story is real.”

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Surry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones holds a copy of a new book by CBS-TV correspondent Mo Rocca while stranding in front of a portrait of Eng and Chang Bunker, the original Siamese twins. They are featured in a chapter of the book. Jones is a great-great-granddaughter of Eng.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Mo-Bit-this-1.jpgSurry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones holds a copy of a new book by CBS-TV correspondent Mo Rocca while stranding in front of a portrait of Eng and Chang Bunker, the original Siamese twins. They are featured in a chapter of the book. Jones is a great-great-granddaughter of Eng.

Mo Rocca is pictured during his 2018 visit to Mount Airy.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Mo-Bit-this-2.jpgMo Rocca is pictured during his 2018 visit to Mount Airy.

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@mtairynews.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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