They come from near and far to honor the legacy of the original Siamese twins. Some come every year, others have only visited once. This year the descendants of Chang and Eng Bunker gathered, not just for a reunion, but to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the twins’ birth.
“They are the friendliest people,” Louise Maloy remarked as she looked around at all of the distant relatives she had met for the first time on Saturday. Maloy traveled with her husband, Larry, from their home in Sandy, Utah, to attend the Bunker Reunion.
“They’re just a fabulous family to belong to,” she said.
A descendant of Chang, Maloy has planned for years to attend the annual Bunker reunion. “But something always happened,” she noted.
This year, with all of the kids out of the home, Maloy was finally able to make her way to Mount Airy, the home of her famous ancestor. She made it for this special 22nd annual reunion which coincided with the 200th anniversary of the twins’ birth.
Maloy said she has visited Mount Airy before to get information for her family research. But this time she was able to attend the reunion luncheon, attend the Surry Arts Council production of “The Wedding of the Siamese Twins,” and take a leisurely stroll up and down Main Street. Maloy has decided to donate a few pictures to the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History after her visit.
Hers is just one of many stories of descendants who find pleasure in traveling to meet distant cousins at the reunion and to uphold the family legacy. Jessie Bunker Bryant, great granddaughter of Eng, helped get the reunion started. She drives each year from High Point to attend the reunion.
“It seems wonderful,” she said of the 22nd reunion. “It looks like it could be 200 people or so. It looks bigger. There’s a lot of new faces.”
The main reunion event, a covered dish lunch held at First Baptist Church in Mount Airy, attracts the most people, though there are also other events held in conjunction with the reunion.
With 2011 marking the 200-year anniversary of the twins, Bryant said, “I think everybody, me included, is happy to have the reunion this year. We feel it’s special this year.”
The reunion does not just attract Bunker descendants. There were descendants this year of the Yates family, which married into the Bunker family. Eng and Chang married Yates sisters from the region. The reunion also attracts researchers, reporters from various news outlets, and history buffs.
For Cynthia Wu, assistant professor of American studies at the University of Buffalo, this year’s Bunker reunion marked her fourth. She has extensively researched the Bunker twins’ influence on literature and culture. She found out about the Bunker reunion from a colleague. Wu has an upcoming book scheduled to be printed about the twins, and she delivered a lecture about this topic on Friday in Mount Airy.
Of the reunion, Wu said, “This is a great place for my fieldwork and research … This is a wonderful experience for me.”
Melvin Miles, local squad car tour driver and history buff, came to the reunion for the first time this year. He was featured as the guest speaker. Miles is not a descendant of the Bunkers, but he is a descendant of one of their business partners. He has gathered much research about the Bunkers. He delivered a speech Saturday about how the Bunkers ended up in Surry County from their birth place in Siam.
“I’ve been fascinated with this just because of the connection,” he said.
Miles conducts squad car tours regularly, and he said he usually spends about 12 minutes of his 40-minute tour talking about the twins. He said it is seldom that he comes across someone who has not heard of the Siamese twins, though most people do not realize they eventually settled in Mount Airy and raised their families here.
“They’re really shocked,” he said.
The reunion takes place the last Saturday in July each year. Bryant said she hopes the reunion will carry on for many years, though most of its original organizers are getting on up in age, she said.
“Everybody wants it to continue,” she said. “We’re trying to work in younger people to do things.”
As for Louise Maloy, she will have to wait and see if she is able to make her way back to Mount Airy for the annual reunion. With seven children and 15 grandchildren, Maloy said getting away from home is often a challenge. But she is glad she made it to the reunion at least once.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said with a smile.
Contact Meghann Evans at 719-1952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.