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Looking Back

The Godino twins

Anita Magsaysay-Ho came to mind recently when one of her paintings sold at auction for P52 million, so I looked up her memoirs in search of a charming sketch of the famous Siamese twins adopted by her Lolo Doyong, better known as the shipping magnate Teodoro Yangco. Magsaysay-Ho is the only person I know who had actually met Lucio and Simplicio Godino; all I have is historical material.

Born in Samar in 1908, the Godino twins were brought to the United States when they were 10 years old and exhibited in a Coney Island freak show where they were billed as the “Samar United Twins.” Arthur Towne, superintendent of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, subsequently took the circus manager to court on the issue of the children being made to work without the supervision of a parent or legal guardian. The twins were examined by Louis Sullivan of the American Museum of Natural History on July 31, 1918, and he published a note in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. They were also examined at Johns Hopkins and described as follows:

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“They are joined together by a band of fibrous tissue, which measures eighteen inches in circumference, and is in the region of their lower sacrums. The tissue is quite dense and firm but somewhat flexible.

“Lucio is a trifle talker and heavier than his brother Simplicio. His manner is somewhat more reserved and he is a better conversationalist, as well as a better student. Simplicio is quick in manner, restless and asks a multiplicity of questions, rather fearful that someone might do harm to him, and often asked, ‘Which one of us are you going to kill?’

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“They both are well educated, speak English fluently, and are quite proficient in vocal and instrumental music. They are extremely proud of their ability to attract attention, which they do wherever they go. They play baseball, tennis, and enjoy all sports common to boys of their age, which they do better than some others not handicapped by a bonded partner.

“…It was interesting to see how well they adapted themselves to locomotion; one would start to walk or run, and his brother would be swung around and immediately caught his step, which he performed going backward. Then the other one would turn either to the right or left and swing his brother around to his back and proceed at a normal rate of speed with apparently no loss of time. They walk as fast as any person would walk, ordinarily, and can run quite fast. In running, if the one ahead wished to go faster, he simply bent forward and carried his brother on his back. We never heard them argue or quarrel about anything, and each seemed satisfied if the other one accomplished the thing he originally set out to do.”

Yangco, then the Philippine resident commissioner in Washington, paid off the Godino twins’ bond with the circus, adopted them and raised them as normal children. The twins were also known as the “Yangco twins.” Magsaysay-Ho recalled that when she was a child, the Godino twins would put her on their back and run around the house as she screamed with both fright and glee. She also remembered that Yangco sheltered other odd people in his home, such as Tiburcia, who crawled like an octopus, and Benito the dwarf, who chewed glass.

Conjoined or Siamese twins will be a curiosity any time, but the Godino twins truly deserve to be written about fully in a monograph because in August 1929, at age 21, they married their childhood sweethearts, the twins Natividad and Victorina Motos. Before the marriage, a clerk of court raised the question about whether the conjoined twins should be considered as one person or two separate individuals. If they were considered one, then marrying the Moto twins would result in bigamy. The marriage pushed through and was news not just in Manila but worldwide.

The Godino twins had another scrape with the law in 1929. They learned to skate, ride a bike, and drive in their youth, with Yangco providing each with a car that had the steering wheel tailor-fit for their respective needs: Lucio had the right-hand drive and Simplicio the left-hand drive. Driving one day, Lucio crashed into a carabao cart, injuring the cart’s driver. Lucio was found guilty by the court and sentenced to five days imprisonment, but Simplicio argued that he should not share the punishment because he was innocent. They were released, and their story partly inspired the 1951 film “Chained for Life,” as well as Ellery Queen’s 1933 novel “The Siamese Twin Mystery,” where the solution to the problem was to electrocute the guilty twin without killing the innocent one.

After their marriage, the Godino twins joined or formed a vaudeville company called the “All Filipino Band.” It successfully toured the United States and Canada, where press reports indicated that the twins were popular with the ladies. In an interview that appeared in a Montreal newspaper in January 1931, the twins said:

“We live normal lives and travel, which suits us… We have a hobby, photography, and we are happy. Some doctors think we could be separated, others believe we could not be; they fail to agree among themselves on the point and there has never been such an operation performed successfully; but we are happy like this and we don’t worry about it.”

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Lucio died of pneumonia in New York in 1936. Simplicio was separated from him but died 12 days later.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Samar United Twins, Siamese twins, Simplicio Godino Lucio Godino, Teodoro Yangco
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