Here are the stories of four fascinating and weird people that will make you laugh, be inspired, or cringe. Chang and Eng Bunker were conjoined twins who married two sisters and were slave-owners on the side of the Southern Confederacy. Rose Wilder Lane is the daughter of the author who wrote the Little House childrens books, a founding member of the American Libertarian movement, and just all around boss ass bitch. John Harvey Kellogg was the inventor of corn flakes, doctor, zealous anti-masturbation campaigner, and eugenicist.
1. Chang and Eng Bunker
Chang and Eng were two conjoined twins born in Vietnam in the 1800s. The term “Siamese twins” is based on them.
The brothers were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage, and though their livers were fused, they were independently complete.
After a Scotsman noticed them and paraded them around as a freak show attraction for ten years, the Bunker twins settled down in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They married two local white women who were sisters. They became naturalized American citizens and even owned slaves.
The Bunkers and their wives slept in a bed built for four. After a while their wives started to not get along. So they alternated between two different houses. Chang had twelve children while Eng had ten. Today their descendents number more than 1,500 and hold reunions. Their liver is on display in at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
2. Rose Wilder Lane
Sick of crop failures and tough frontier life, Lane moved in 1908 to San Francisco, California. She married a salesman named Gillette Lane and became pregnant. Sadly, her son was stillborn, and a subsequent surgery left her unable to have kids.
She felt her intellectual interests did not mesh with the life she was living with her husband. Keenly aware of her lack of a formal education, during these years, Lane read voraciously and taught herself several languages. Her writing career began around 1908, with occasional freelance newspaper jobs that earned much-needed extra cash.
Lane’s writing career took off. She wrote for publications like Harper’s and Saturday Evening Post.
In the late 1920s, Lane was reputed to be one of the highest-paid female writers in America, and along with Hoover, she counted among her friends well known figures such as Sinclair Lewis, Isabel Paterson, Dorothy Thompson, John Patric, and Lowell Thomas.
When Lane’s mother approached her with a rough autobiographical manuscript of her own childhood, Lane sensed that an American public fatigued by the Great Depression would take to the story of the loving, persistent, and independent Ingalls family. Lane encouraged and helped her mother rewrite and sell the story as a children’s novel. The book became a big success, and an entire series replete with T.V. shows, merchandise, and museums followed. Their family was raking in the dough.
I read the entire series as a kid and stil wax nostalgic for it. I thought Lane’s mother, who’s the titled author, wrote every book on her own and only received encouragement from her Lane. It turns out, however, that the truth is more interesting.
…an ongoing mutual collaboration that involved Lane more extensively in the earlier books, and to a much lesser extent by the time the series ended, as Wilder’s confidence in her own writing ability increased. Lane insisted to the end that her role was little more than that of her mother’s adviser, despite documentation to the contrary…Literary historians believe that Lane’s editing skills brought the dramatic pacing, literary structure, and characterization critically needed to make the stories publishable in book form.
Even more fascinating is Lane’s societal and political views. She was a libertarian, economically laissez faire, anti-racist, and anti-communist. She protested paying income taxes, opposed the New Deal, and thought Social Security was a Ponzi scheme that would destroy the United States.
Lane played a hands-on role during the 1940s and 1950s in launching the “libertarian movement” and began an extensive correspondence with figures such as DuPont executive Jasper Crane and writer Frank Meyer, as well as her friend and colleague, Ayn Rand. She wrote book reviews for the National Economic Council and later for the Volker Fund, out of which grew the Institute for Humane Studies. Later, she lectured at, and gave generous financial support to, the Freedom School headed by libertarian Robert LeFevre.
I want to reread the Little House books now knowing she was a die-hard libertarian who along with her mother purposefully wove themes of individualism into the series.
Rose Wilder Lane died in her sleep at age 81, on October 30, 1968, just as she was about to depart on a three-year world tour. She was buried next to her parents at Mansfield Cemetery in Mansfield, Missouri.
3. John Harvey Kellogg
I haven’t read the entire Wikipedia entry on John Harvey Kellogg yet since a colleague only recently drew my attention to this smart, prolific, and bizarre man. These parts stood out to me at first glance though.
- he invented corn flakes with his brother, Will Keith Kellogg
- he was a medical doctor “who ran a sanitarium using holistic methods, with a particular focus on nutrition, enemas, and exercise. Kellogg was an advocate of vegetarianism”
- he also created various phototherapeutic and electrotherapeutic inventions
- he advocated sexual abstinence and “advocated keeping the diet plain to prevent sexual arousal”
- he was an “especially zealous campaigner against masturbation”
He also recommended, to prevent children from this “solitary vice”, bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages and electrical shock.
- he liked yogurt enemas
- he was a eugenicist