I was watching the film Chained for Life (1952) as part of my work over at Psychotronic Review. The stars of the film are Daisy and Violet Hilton — conjoined twins born in 1908. But as Mark Weldon put it in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, the story in the film is “nothing compared to their real story.” That’s true. They lived a real horror story.
To begin with, their mother sold them to another woman, Mary Hilton, who basically enslaved them — turning them into a modern freak exhibit. They were controlled through violence. As part of this, they were trained as musicians, and you can see this in the film. They are really good. But when Hilton died, she willed the twins to her daughter, Edith Meyers. Get that? Willed! This is in the 1920s.
A Better Childhood
Their lives improved in 1931 when the twins sued to get out of their “contract” with Edith Meyers and her husband. As a result of the case, they were paid $100,000. This should give you some idea of just how much money the Meyers family (and Hilton before them) brought in on the backs of Daisy and Violet. Humans are savage when it means making a buck.
They lived as performers for most of the rest of their lives. Even if they hadn’t been conjoined, their musical skills would have been in demand — at least as long as vaudeville continued. After that, it was harder to make a living. But they continued — Chained for Life being part of that.
In 1961, they performed at a drive-in theater. Afterward, their manager abandoned them — penniless. They were forced to get a job working at a fruit stand. They worked that job for over 7 years before they died some time around the new year 1969. That was when the true horror occurred.
When Conjoined Twins Die
I had never thought what it would be like when conjoined twins died. But generally, they would not die at the same time. So when one dies, the other is attached to a rotting corpse. And this is what happened to Daisy and Violet.
They were suffering from the flu. Daisy died first. Violet died between two and four days later. So she got to spend this time with the corpse of her sister as it slowly poisoned her to death.
Real Life Horror
This strikes me as a great premise for a novel: a woman attached to her dead sister thinking back on her difficult life while she waits to die. I’m thinking something along the lines of Pincher Martin.
But more than that, I’m thinking of Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman stated that the idea was to create a horror film — but not to include classic horror elements but rather the things that terrified him.
Violet Hilton could have been too ill to have even noticed her situation. But really, wouldn’t she have gotten thirsty and tried to get up at some point?
Regardless, it’s like with people’s reaction to folklore: it doesn’t matter if it is true but that it could be true.
Spending my last hours on Earth trapped with a rotting corpse — attached to me or not — is a terrifying thought.
It makes me think of conjoined twins in a whole new way. The universe is cruel.