16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20

Trista - November 6, 2018

The Tocci brothers have long been regarded as one of the most famous conjoined twins in history; some would say second only to Chang and Eng Bunker. They spent most of their early lives on tour throughout Europe and the United States and earned a lot of money off of their condition. Doctors couldn’t get enough of them, nor could the mass public. But at about the time that they turned 20 years old, they completely disappeared from public life and lived as recluses in Venice, Italy. Much of what we know about them is either sensationalization, due to their immense celebrity, or speculation because we don’t know much about their personal lives, mainly after they retired.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
A drawing of the conjoined Tocci twins. sideshoworld.

16. The Tocci Twins Had a Normal Birth

Very few conjoined twins survived long after birth before advances in modern medicine in the twentieth century, as they face physiological challenges such as shared organs that cannot perform their functions for two individuals. For those few that did survive, becoming a part of a traveling exhibition in which they were featured as “freaks” was pretty much the only way to make a living. From the nineteenth century on, conjoined were commonly referred to as “Siamese twins” because of the traveling exhibition featuring Eng and Chang Bunker, who were of Chinese descent but born in Siam (what is modern-day Thailand).

Giacomo and Giovanni were probably born on or about October 4, 1877 (scholars debate the exact date of their birth) in Locana, Italy as the firstborn to their 19-year-old mother. She had a relatively easy, uneventful labor, as the boys were quite small. When they were born, their mother doted on them, but for their father, the boys’ conjoined state was too much. He had a nervous breakdown a month after their birth and checked himself into a mental hospital. None the less, the couple went on to have seven more children, all of whom were healthy.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Giacomo and Giovanni as infants in 1881. Wikimedia.

15. The Tocci Twins Were Dicephalus

Conjoined twins are usually classified regarding where they are joined. Chang and Eng Bunker, the “original” Siamese twins were joined at the chest and had separate organs, except for a liver that was fused between them. Some are joined at the brain and meninges so that they effectively share one head; others are joined at the hip or pelvis. Most frequently, conjoined twins share a common abdomen and may have only one heart, liver, and intestine. Doctors believe that the condition results when a fertilized egg separates to produce twins but fails to separate.

Today, many conjoined twins can be successfully separated, while others go on to live productive, independent lives. However, separation was not an option for the Tocci brothers, who lived before medicine had developed to that point. Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci were dicephalus, meaning that they had separate heads. They were joined at the sixth rib and had their own hearts and other organs. They also each had their own set of two arms, which were fully functional. However, they had only one leg each and only one set of genitalia. If they had been born in the twentieth century, they probably could have been successfully separated.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Eng and Chang Bunker, the famous Siamese twins, in their later years. Wikipedia.

14. The Boys’ Parents Put Them On Exhibition Soon After Their Birth

Nowadays, people tend to frown upon parents who put their children on display for whatever reason. For example, their kids become celebrities very early in life like Macaulay Culkin and Dakota Fanning. In other cases, the parents want to show off their home life like Jon and Kate or the Duggar family on TLC. The last scenario involves offspring who have some abnormality and exploiting it for financial gain. Child services would probably be contacted in the latter. The situation will be considered much worse if the children are denied medical care.

The boys’ parents soon had them touring Europe in various freak shows and were hesitant to have doctors examine them, as doing so could inhibit the cash cow that they saw the twins as being. In fact, one of their doctors said in 1892, “The parents seem to be impressed with an idea that there is danger in a physical examination, whereby the hope of their gains might be destroyed” (Conjoined Twins: An Historical, Biological, and Ethical Encyclopedia by Christine Quigley, page 169). In Turin, Italy, their exhibition attracted the attention of medical doctors, particularly Dr. Fubini and Dr. Mosso, who examined them and concluded that their lives would be short. As they continued to tour, doctors wanted to study them, and they were determined to be healthy and expected to have an average lifespan.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Conjoined twins awaiting surgery. Driscol Children’s Hospital / CNN.

13. Doctors Exploited the Conjoined Twins

The Tocci twins became something of celebrities, not only to the mass public but also to the medical community. A year after their birth, they were featured in Lyon Medical Magazine, having been examined by doctors in Lyon, France. A few years later, in 1881, doctors in Vienna claimed that they were “the greatest wonder in the world.” Pretty much everywhere they went, doctors clambered over each other to get the chance to examine them. All of this happened in a day and age when health information privacy was not even on the books, and people’s medical conditions could be exploited for gain by the doctors.

Fortunately, that era has ended. Following the crude medical experiments performed on children at Auschwitz by monsters such as Dr. Mengele, laws are now in place to prohibit people’s medical conditions from being exploited. People cannot receive any form of medical care without their consent. Additionally, laws such as HIPAA (Health Information Privacy Act) in the United States and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) in Europe mean that people’s medical records must remain entirely confidential. In other words, people can no longer be exploited by the medical community for any reason.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
X-ray of joined twins, cephalothoracopagus. Herman Klapproth, M.D., and Eastman Kodak Co. / Wikipedia.

12. Doctors Labeled Giacomo as Idiotic

Some of the medical publications that doctors wrote about the brothers were just a little bit insensitive to the fact that they were, in fact, human subjects. As an infant, Giacomo was actually labeled in some publications as being “somewhat idiotic,” particularly compared to his brother. Giovanni was considered to have normal intellect. Today, any doctor who attempted to do the same would not only have his or her license revoked (due to privacy violations) but would also be the recipient of lawsuits. Additionally, there is no research to suggest that conjoined twins necessarily have an IQ lower than their counterparts; instead, their unique experiences may lead to them developing higher emotional intelligence than the general population.

As the boys grew up, though, they were noted to have “normal” intelligence and were both mentally and physically healthy. Giacomo developed an artistic, creative personality that complemented his talkative nature, while Giovanni remained quiet and reserved. The two spoke multiple languages by the time they were adolescents. Their multi-lingual ability probably served them well, as they continued to be exhibited and visited nearly every major city to the west of Russia. They even did a high-profile visit to the United States, where they were exhibited as “the two-headed boy.”

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
1880s cabinet card photograph of the Tocci Brothers by Obermiller & Kern. Sold by the Tocci Brothers. Wikimedia.

11. Giacomo and Giovanni Couldn’t Walk Without Assistance

The Tocci twins never did manage to earn how to walk. That didn’t surprise scientists and doctors of their day, who initially didn’t believe that they would live for very long. As they got older, they didn’t expect that the boys would have the muscle strength in their legs or torso, which would limit them from having the coordination necessary for walking. However, plenty of sets of conjoined twins, particularly those who are conjoined similarly to the Tocci twins (each controlling one leg), have managed to develop the skill of bipedal walking. What probably inhibited their ability was that Giacomo had a clubfoot and therefore lacked the physical stamina necessary to walk.

The boys usually got around in a wheelchair. When they were put on display for an act, they often leaned against a chair, as they were able to stand. When they were out of the public eye, however, they usually crawled in what was described as a spidery motion. They used all four arms and two legs to get around. That they were able to develop the coordination necessary to carry out this task was a testament to their intellect and ability to cooperate.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Conjoined brothers from Nuremberg Chronicle (1493). Wikimedia / Public Domain.

10. The Tocci Twins Got Rich Touring in the United States

Giacomo and Giovanni were exhibited all across Europe from the time that they were born, with their father acting as their manager; he apparently recovered at least somewhat from his nervous breakdown. In 1891, when they were about 14 years old, the twins embarked on what was supposed to be a one-year tour of the United States. P.T. Barnum had founded the Barnum and Bailey circus – “The Greatest Show on Earth” – 20 years prior, and the American public couldn’t get enough of marveling at so-called “freaks.”

The Tocci twins may not have actually been featured as one of P.T. Barnum’s acts, but they were indeed successful in the circuit that he had helped to establish. They visited dime stores across the country and were featured in sideshows. They received the moniker “the blended twins,” and ads for them labelled them “the two-headed boy” and “the greatest human phenomenon ever seen.” They were so successful that their one-year tour turned into five years, and they pocketed as much as $1000 a week. Some commentators have eloquently said that they exploited their condition and became freaks on their own terms. However, their level of willingness or the manipulation or coercion that they may have been subjected to has not been ascertained.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
The Tocci twins in Berlin in 1891. Jan Bondeson, The Two-Headed Boy, S. 177 / Wikimedia.

9. The Tocci Twins Didn’t See Their Condition as a Misfortune

Some conjoined twins get along so well with each other that they see themselves as two separate halves that could not function without the other. Abby and Brittany Hensel, who were featured on TLC’s show Abby and Brittany, refuse to be separated, even though doctors have advised that they could be. Other conjoined twins have recoiled at the thought of being separated, but not undergoing an operation could put their lives at risk. Conjoined twins who grew up without being divided commonly feel that their quality of being together is better than what it would be apart, if for no other reason than the camaraderie that they enjoy with each other.

Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci did not have the option of separation, but they got along incredibly well with each other. In fact, they didn’t see their condition as being a misfortune at all. However, like any other siblings, they had their disagreements. And like many brothers, they occasionally got into fist fights to try to settle them. They had differing degrees of strength – Giacomo had a club foot, and Giovanni was overall stronger – but no one knows how much this factored into their brawls. They usually didn’t occur in public, as the boys knew that they needed to maintain their poise in front of onlookers.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
The Two Headed Boy – a poster from 1892. vintagenews.

8. The Twins Toured for the First Two Decades of Their Lives

The Tocci brothers’ parents had them exhibited first in Turin, Italy when they were infants. Doctors in Turin concluded that they would have very short lives, so what did their parents do? Kept exhibiting them. They went on to places like France and Switzerland, where doctors concluded that they would have average life expectancies. Both doctors and the mass public examined them, and pictures of their unique anatomy were often drawn. They regularly toured, throughout Europe until they went to America at approximately the age of 14.

When they traveled to the United States, they made $1000 a week, a living wage by today’s standards but an absolute fortune for someone in the nineteenth century. They were put on exhibition almost every single day for seven hours, usually standing against a chair because they were unable to stand on their own. Headlines labeled them as “the two-headed boy” and “the greatest wonder of nature.” They proved extraordinarily popular with the American media, and they even attracted the attention of strong cultural influencers, including Mark Twain. It is unclear how much attention they garnered from the medical establishment in the United States, but their celebrity probably did attract the attention of doctors and professors throughout the country.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
The Tocci brothers. Pinterest.

7. One Preferred Water, the Other Preferred Beer

Twins are known to have very different personalities frequently. In fact, they have long been the subject of experiments to determine which is stronger, nature and the genetic disposition that a person is biologically inclined to, or nurture and the environment within which a person is reared. Even conjoined twins, like Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci, are tempted to have very different personalities. This reality became apparent to many people when the television show Abby and Brittany aired on TLC, revealing the day-to-day lives of conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel. One challenge that conjoined twins face regularly is ensuring that their habits, likes, and interests do not conflict with those of the other.

Giacomo and Giovanni got along with each other better than most brothers, seeing as it was more of a necessity to daily life than a duty to family. Giacomo loved to draw, but if Giovanni found a problem with the drawing, he would kick it off his brother’s knee. They sometimes were known to quibble about which language to speak, seeing as they fluently spoke at least French, German, Italian, and probably also English. Furthermore, Giovanni enjoyed a good beer, while his brother was more prone to have a glass of water.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20

6. Mark Twain Was Inspired by the Tocci Brothers to Write “Those Extraordinary Twins”

Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens, was one of those rare voices in American history who could critique and satirize American culture in his stories while also recognizing his distinct place in it. His classics include Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; both considered primarily to be children’s stories but are replete with images and criticisms of American culture. When he saw a picture of Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci, who were on tour in the United States, he was inspired to write a story about conjoined twins.

His original intent was for them to be the main characters in Pudd’nhead Wilson, but he realized that the overall story was becoming tragic rather than farcical. Additionally, the side characters, rather than the twins, were taking a leading role. He decided to pull the twins out and give them their own story while keeping them as side characters in Pudd’nhead Wilson. The result, “Those Extraordinary Twins,” featured not conjoined twins but rather identical twins who had separate bodies. However, in the final version that went out for publication, there was evidence in the text that the original intent was for them to be conjoined. For example, they were described as being their parents’ only child, who slept together, practiced the piano together, and performed in sideshows.

In the introduction to “Those Extraordinary Twins,” Mark Twain said of the Tocci brothers, “I had seen a picture of a youthful Italian “freak” or “freaks” which was – or which were – on exhibition in our cities – a combination consisting of two heads and four arms joined to a single body and a single pair of legs – and I thought I would write an extravagantly fantastic little story with this freak of nature for hero – or heroes – a silly young miss for heroin, and two old ladies and two boys for the minor parts. I lavishly elaborated these people and their doings, of course.”

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
First edition front cover, Mark Twain: Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins, 1894, Hartford, Conn. American Publishing Company. Wikimedia.

5. “Puddn’head Wilson” by Mark Twain Was Also Inspired by the Twin

One aspect of Americana in the nineteenth century that Twain was particularly critical of was slavery and the severe discrimination against African-Americans following the Civil War. The Tocci twins so inspired Twain that he envisioned a satire to critique the institution. The result – Puddn’head Wilson – has little to do with Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci, and the twins would probably not have recognized any of the characters in the novel. Nonetheless, Twain specialized in taking individuals who were outcasts of society, as he may have envisioned the Tocci brothers to be, and turning them into heroes.

Puddn’head Wilson is a novel about two boys, one of whom was born into slavery, being only 1/32 black, the other of whom is born into white aristocracy. Valet de Chambres, aka Chambers, looks almost exactly like his white counterpart, Tom Driscoll, and they two were accidentally switched at birth. As a result, Tom, the master’s son, grew up as a slave while Chambers, born a slave, grew up to be master of the house. The story takes a tragic turn when the two learn the truth of their origins and are unable to fulfill the social roles.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Canals in Venice. blogspot.

4. Giacomo and Giovanni Retired at the Age of 20

Celebrities are known to do strange things. Some retire from the public spotlight and pursue their own passions, as Howard Hughes did when he decided to stop performing and spend his free time flying. Some, like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, mainly stop acting but remain in the public eye; others, like Emma Watson, use their celebrity to promote causes. And then there’s Betty White, who will probably stay in the public light until the day she dies. But if you have the money to do whatever you want and never have to work again, you have the freedom to live life largely on your terms.

After traveling and being exhibited for the first two decades of their lives, the twins became incredibly wealthy. Following their five-year tour of the United States, they returned to their home country of Italy, to the city of Venice, where they bought a villa. Though Venice has long been renowned for its arts cultural scene, the twins hardly ever left their home. They became social recluses, and very little is known about their lives after their retirement. Perhaps they got tired of being put on display for everyone to see. Or maybe this was a dream that they had long harbored: living a quiet life on their terms. They had the money to do it. The twins never had to work again.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
A photo of the Tocci twins. The Hub Photographie Parlors / sideshoworld.

3. Giacomo and Giovanni May Have Gotten Married

About as much is known about the Tocci twins after their retirement as is known about their early lives: practically nothing. What is believed to be right about them is subject to speculation and lacks verification. In 1904, they reportedly made a public appearance in which they showed that they had married two separate women: Giacomo had married one, and Giovanni had married the other. The two women may have been sisters, and there is scant evidence as to when they got married and how long they stayed married.

While they were on exhibition, one aspect of their unique physique that particularly interested the “vulgar masses” was their shared genitalia and anus. As such, the idea that they had gotten married, especially to two separate women, created a public scandal. The quintessential conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, also got married, which also generated controversy. However, they had separate genitalia. The twins’ wives were labeled as vulgar. They may have married at least partly out of necessity, as they were unable to walk on their own and may have needed someone to assist them with their activities of daily living. However, one can only speculate as to the reasons for their marriages and whether or not the unions were happy.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
A drawing of the conjoined twin brothers. Mundie 1999 / missioncreep.

2. The Circumstances of Their Deaths are Unclear

Conjoined twins are unable to continue living if one of them dies. The bodily functions cease once one of the twin dies, and the other dies shortly after that. In the case of Eng and Chang Bunker, Chang was a morbid alcoholic, while Eng never drank; Chang’s death may have been at least partially due to his alcoholism (he was known to look five years older than his brother), and Eng died just a few hours later. The fact that the bodies of conjoined twins may age separately and at distinct rhythms is one reason why separation is usually necessary.

Seeing as the two brothers lived the rest of their lives as recluses, probably anxious about going in public again, reports about their lives and deaths are unclear. Their wives likely also did not appear much in general, seeing as their marriages had created such a scandal. Reports surfaced in 1906 that claimed the brothers had died. However, another story in 1911 verified that the brothers were both alive and well. Other records indicate that they died in the year 1940. The Guinness Book of World Records suggests that they may have been the longest-living conjoined twins in history until the year 2014. Whatever the case may be, the brothers certainly had a life expectancy that far surpassed what the doctors, in turn, predicted when they were infants.

16 Odd Facts About the Tocci Brothers, Famous Conjoined Twins Who Retired at 20
Giacomo and Giovanni as young children. phoenixnewtimes.

1. Giacomo and Giovanni May Have Had Children

One reason why Giacomo’s and Giovanni’s marriages were so scandalous is that any children that they may have would have dubious parentage. Chang and Eng Bunker had around 20 children, but they had separate genitalia, so there was no question of who the father of each child was. Should the Tocci twins be considered as one individual concerning having sired children? Or if Giacomo’s wife had a child, would he be listed as the father or vice versa? The fact that the two had one shared genitalia yet got married produced a whole host of problems, particularly in a society that was unwilling or unable to adapt to differences.

Whether or not the twins had their own children is a source of speculation. Some reports indicate that they had healthy children with no abnormalities. Other reports say that they died in 1940 without any children. The subject is complicated to verify, seeing as they lived as complete recluses. Verification would probably involve archival research in Venice, looking for birth certificates that may be connected to the brothers and that date from the late 1800s to early 1900s. But doing so might erase the enigma that has come to characterize the two brothers.


Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Chang and Eng Bunker.” Wikipedia.

“Conjoined Twins Fast Facts.” CNN. October 18, 2018.

“The Tocci Twins- The Blended Brothers.” The Human Marvels.

“Abby and Brittany Hensel.” Wikipedia.

“The Conjoined Twins Who Inspired Mark Twain’s ‘Those Extraordinary Twins,'” by Tijana Radeska. The Vintage News. November 15, 2016.

“Puddin’head Wilson.” Wikipedia.

“Those Extraordinary Twins,” by Mark Twain. 2014.

“Morbid Monday: The Death of Chang and Eng, Conjoined Twins Until the Last,” by Laetitia Barbier. Atlas Obscura. July 15, 2013.

“Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci.” Wikipedia.

“Oldest twins- Conjoined (ever, male).” Guinness World Records. October 25, 2014.