Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins

Daisy and Violet Hilton: The incredible, heartbreaking story of the conjoined twins that once shook the world

Long ago, before Paris and Nicky lived their dream lives, there were two Hilton sisters whose lives were far from perfect.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins
Daisy and Violet Hilton, The Conjoined Twins © Wellcome Collection

Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were born on February 5, 1908, in Sussex, England. Their mother, a poor waitress and single mother named Kate Skinner believed that God sent her Siamese (conjoined) twins as punishment for having sex without being married.

Daisy and Violet ― English Siamese Twins at their early age © Wikimedia Commons

The maid, barely 21 years old, had a fleeting affair with the son of the family she worked for. She knew she shouldn’t, but she couldn’t resist the temptation. When she became pregnant, she realized that her actions would have irreversible consequences, but she resigned herself to accept it.

However, when she saw that her daughters were Siamese, something that in 1908 was considered a kind of abomination, she was terrified. She was convinced that it was a punishment from God for what she had done.

The girls were united in the lumbar region and did not share organs, which augured a healthy life without too many complications. But Kate Skinner wanted to get rid of them, so she offered them to Mary Hilton, the owner of the bar where she worked (also the midwife), who agreed to pay her a small fee in return.

A gesture of love? Nothing, further away. It was an investment. Mary named them Daisy and Violet. When they got a little older, she started displaying them in her pub for money, as if they were circus rides or human freaks.

Daisy and Violet Hilton
© Wellcome Collection

At age three, Violet and Daisy were featured in a travelling circus. With Hilton, they toured the world to finally settle in the United States. For Hilton, the girls were nothing but property from which money could be made. The woman they called “Aunty” abused them severely for years.

After Hilton died in 1915, the twins were treated as property again and passed on to Hilton’s daughter Edith Meyers, who treated them even worse than her mother did. She refused to educate them and cruelly and inhumanely forced them to learn dance and play musical instruments with the intention of making her show more attractive and she could earn more money.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, with saxophones
Daisy & Violet Hilton conjoined twins playing saxophones © Wellcome Collection

Edith and her husband Meyer Meyers continued to abuse the twins and the girls continued to perform tirelessly without receiving a penny of their earnings. When they were 23 years old and at the height of their fame, the Siamese girls took action; they sued the Meyers and were finally freed from their slavery.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins
Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, with the Meyers, with whom they lived and who managed them | circa 1927 © Wellcome Collection

They continued to perform but fame and money decreased over time. The girls, unaccustomed to their freedom and the money they received, began to associate with many men and married several times. It is said that the famous magician Harry Houdini taught them to separate themselves mentally, so that one could have sex without disturbing the other.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, being wooed by two young men
Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, being wooed by two young men © Wellcome Collection

As time passed, they realized that they had wasted their money and desperately tried to regain their fame. Therefore, they acted in various films. In 1951 they starred in a film, Chained for Life, an exploitation film loosely based on their lives. However, in this field, they were not successful.

Daisy and Violet Hilton
Hilton twins were best known for their film appearances in Freaks and Chained for Life. © Wellcome Collection

They also tried to open a hot dog stand in 1955, but neighbouring merchants were not very receptive. Their last public appearance was in Charlotte, South Carolina, in 1961 after which they were dumped by their manager penniless to eat.

Finally, when they had nothing left, they got a job as a cashier in a grocery store. It is said that it was their first job where they found peace and normality that they had never had. They were there until January 4, 1969, when they didn’t show up for work.

Their boss called the police, days later the police found the two dead sisters where they lived. They both died from a flu virus called Hong Kong flu. According to the autopsy, Daisy died first and it took a few days ― two to four days ― for Violet to follow in her footsteps. They were buried in Forest Lawn West Cemetery in Charlotte.

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