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The conjoined twins who inspired Mark Twain’s “Those Extraordinary Twins”

Tijana Radeska
Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci

Even though they were popular characters, not much is known about the conjoined twins Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci. They were born in 1875 or 1877 in Locana, Italy.

Their mother was only 19 when they were born and their father spent a month in an asylum after suffering a nervous breakdown when he first saw the twins.

The Tocci twins in 1881

The Tocci twins in 1881

Giovanni and Giacomo were dicephalic conjoined twins with one umbilical cord and one placenta. It means that they had  two heads, two necks, two rib cages that came together at the sixth rib, four arms, and two legs.

They had two hearts, two stomachs, two sets of lungs, two separate diaphragms, and a shared large and small intestine, anus, and penis. Each of the twins controlled one leg and they probably lacked the co-ordination required to walk.

They spent most of their time in a wheelchair and were able to stand straight only when there was a chair next to them which helped them to keep balance.

Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci

Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci

The twins were first exhibited at a freak show in Turin where they attracted the attention of many professors from the Turin Academy of Medicine. When the professors concluded that the twins would have short lives, their father took them to doctors in Lyon while they were touring around France.

The two doctors who examined them in Lyon determined that they would have a normal life expectancy. The same was confirmed by the doctors in Switzerland when they were exposed in front of the Swiss Society of Natural Science.

Once, an English doctor stated that Giovanni was intelligent and artistic while his brother Giacomo was an idiot, but this statement was dismissed as many other doctors had the impression that both of them are smart. As for their characters, it seemed that Giacomo was th talkative one while Giovanni was the introvert.

The Two Headed Boy - a poster from 1892

The Two Headed Boy – a poster from 1892

Through the 1880s the twins gained a lot of popularity and almost every day were exhibited in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, or France. The boys were fluent in Italian, French, and German. Sometimes they disagreed over their preferences, for examplea bout  beverages – Giovanni liked beer while  Giacomo preferred mineral water.

In 1891 the twins arrived in America for a tour that was supposed to last for a year and for which they were paid $1000 a week. They gained the sympathies of the American audience and the media, so instead of a one-year tour, the twins stayed for five years in the States.

Before the twins' departure to the USA

Before the twins’ departure to the USA

Mark Twain saw one of their performances and got so fascinated and inspired that he used them as the basis of his short story “Those Extraordinary Twins”, which later became “Pudd’nhead Wilson”.

After exhausting five years on the stages across the States, Giacomo and Giovanni decided to retire in Italy, so they bought a villa in Venice. They lived alone, never leaving their home and avoiding any social interaction. Hence, all the information about their lives after retirement is as obscure as the information about their early lives.

Tocci brothers in 1880s

Tocci brothers in 1880s

There are many contradictory stories about them and none has yet been confirmed as true. According to some story versions, they married two women in 1904.

Another child story from our vaults: The case of Mary Ellen – the first documented case of child abuse in the US was reported to the Animal Welfare Agency in 1874

There is a report that the brothers died in 1906, but another one from 1911 says that they were alive and had children. The last report on the brothers states that they died in 1940 and didn’t have any children.

Tijana Radeska

Tijana Radeska is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News