When twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were born joined at the hip, the doctor said that they would live only a few weeks. Instead, the sisters lived to 60, sharing every moment of their frequently grim (but altogether remarkable) lives.
The Hilton sisters were born in 1908 in Brighton, England. Horrified by the twins’ fused bodies, their mother sold them to one Mary Hilton, who saw a real opportunity in the twins’ unusual physiology. For some time, Hilton kept the children in the back room of a pub, to be poked and prodded by anyone willing to pay two cents in admission. In 1911, she took the girls on a tour through Britain, and later across sideshows in Europe and and the United States. When Hilton died, Violet and Daisy went to live with her harsh daughter Edith Meyers, who kept them captive in her San Antonio home any time that they were not performing.
The twins were a roaring success on the 1920s vaudeville circuit. Crowds were not only fascinated by their conjoined nature, but also impressed with their talents. Violet played the saxophone, Daisy played the violin, and the girls were also skilled tap dancers. They traveled across the United States and appeared with icons like Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope. But, until they were legally emancipated from the Meyers family in 1931, Daisy and Violet never saw a cent of their significant profits. (The legend goes that Harry Houdini was the one who told them to sue for their freedom.)
In the 1930s the sisters struck out on their own and added burlesque performance to their repertoire. Although they had work, their lives were frequently complicated by their unusual situation. When Violet tried to marry a musician, their marriage application was rejected in 21 different states for being “immoral and indecent.” And as the times changed, opportunities quickly dried up. Although the Hilton sisters had talent, notoriety, and had starred in two Hollywood films, by the 1960s they couldn’t seem to make a penny.
In 1961, the twins’ tour manager abandoned them after a show in Charlotte, North Carolina. Destitute and seeing no other path forward, Daisy and Violet took a job at the local Park-N-Shop market. Charles Reid, the owner, staffed them to work behind the produce counter, where they were able to operate in relative privacy. Later, Reid would say that few of his customers likely even realized that the sisters were attached.
Daisy and Violet worked at the grocery store until 1969, when they suddenly became ill and died of the Hong Kong flu. The sisters’ meager funds could not cover the cost of a tombstone, so they share a gravesite with Troy Thompson, a young man who died in Vietnam.