The Unusual Life and Times of the Godino Twins

Lucio and Simplicio Godino may or may not have been the first conjoined twins born in the Philippines on record, but they were the most famous, or semi-famous.
Lucio and Simplicio Godino, around age ten (ciica 1918-1920); their first time in the US. Teodoro Yangco, Resident Commissioner in Washington, DC, took custody of the boys at this time. The boys are sporting new suits. Photo c/o http://mentalfloss.com/article/55329/10-stories-conjoined-twins (and Library of Congress, Science Photo)

Lucio and Simplicio Godino, around age ten (ciica 1918-1920); their first time in the US. Teodoro Yangco, Resident Commissioner in Washington, DC, took custody of the boys at this time. The boys are sporting new suits. Photo c/o http://mentalfloss.com/article/55329/10-stories-conjoined-twins (and Library of Congress, Science Photo)

But first, there were Chang and Eng Bunker, perhaps the most famous “conjoined twins” who were originally from Siam; thus, the term “Siamese twins” was coined.

Born of Chinese extraction, Chang and Eng became the toast of the capitals of the 19th century world. But they were also savvy enough to stockpile their earnings despite being used by their promoters. So successful had the twins become by 1839 that they ended up buying a 110-acre farm in Traphill, North Carolina, with slaves to boot to work the farm. Of course, this was in the day before H-1, H-2, guest worker or refugee visas. It was all so simple then.

The original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, 1811-1874. Born in what was called Siam, they settled and spent the rest of their days as citizens of Mt. Airy, North Carolina and are buried there.

The original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, 1811-1874. Born in what was called Siam, they settled and spent the rest of their days as citizens of Mt. Airy, North Carolina and are buried there.

As naturalized Americans, they became the “Bunkers,” married a pair of local sisters, and between them fathered some 21 children. They lived through the US Civil War, even seeing some of their sons fight for the Confederacy.

Of course, political correctness in our day and age changed “Siamese twins” to conjoined twins. It sounded so much more exotic and unique, right up there with Siamese cats, Siamese fighting fish and “The March of the Siamese Royal Children” (from The King and I).

New Twins on the Scene

Then in 1908, two other sets of conjoined twins came into the world. In February 1908, Daisy and Violet Hilton were born in Brighton, England. (More about them later.) A month later, the Godino twins were born in Samar, Visayas, the Philippine Islands.

The Bunker twins were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage and fused livers. Lucio and Simplicio Godino were joined by a band of fibrous tissue, some 18 inches in circumference, in the region of their lower sacrum.

The Godinos spent an uneventful childhood in their little corner of Samar until an American promoter (or his agents) spotted them. The opportunity to make lots of money appeared. So in the spring of 1918 when they had just turned ten, they signed with a show promoter who brought them to the USA. The Godinos were exhibited at a Coney Island “freak show” as the “Samar United Twins.”

The big tent “freak” show period didn’t last very long. An eagle-eyed supervisor of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children took the circus manager to court and got an injunction. The twins were summarily taken out of the show and examined properly by qualified doctors. They were pronounced healthy, and for the most part, “normal.”

The matter came to the attention of Teodoro Yangco, then-Philippine Resident Commissioner in Washington, DC. Yangco stepped in and took legal custody of the boys.

Teodoro Yangco was a diplomat-entrepreneur-philanthropist of considerable means. Born in San Antonio, Zambales, Yangco was the son of shipping magnate Luis R. Yangco and Ramona Arguelles Corpus. He went to the Ateneo, then UST and could have been one of the first Filipinos to graduate from an English college, Ealing Commercial College of London, in 1886.

Back in Manila after his London studies, Teodoro followed in his father’s footsteps, starting a new inter-island shipping company and shipyard. In addition, he organized a bus company, set up a big department store called Bazaar Siglo XX and a large dry goods concern in Divisoria called Yangco Market. And somewhere in all that, he also became president of Insular Life Insurance. So he was a big shaker and mover in the early Commonwealth days of the Philippines.

In 1917, he was named Philippine Resident Commissioner to the US Congress (so like the Ambassador at that time), and that was when he came upon the Godino twins. After paying off the bond to the “freak” show promoter who brought them to the US, he legally made the twins his wards. Yangco then enrolled them in local Washington, DC public schools, and they quickly attained fluency in English and adapted to books and music.

Teodoro Yangco (1861 – 1939)

Teodoro Yangco (1861 – 1939)

When his Resident Commissionership in Washington, DC, was over in March 1920, Yangco returned to the Philippines with the boys, where he formally adopted them.

(There is some controversy whether Lucio and Simplicio were originally named “Godina,” “Godino” or even “Codino” (by one Chicago rag). For Yangco to have adopted them, the boys would have had to take the Yangco surname; however, he allowed them to keep “Godino” as they had already established a worldwide reputation with that name. In Manila, however, they were informally referred to as the “Yangco twins.”)

[I was drawn to the twins’ story for several reasons: one was the Yangco-Ossorio family connection. While doing research for a previous article, Six Profiles--Five in Valor, One in Villainy (originally published here in PositivelyFilipino November 2, 2016), one of those profiled was Frederic Ossorio (the “Monuments Men” guy). I found out that the fabled Ossorio siblings’ mother was Maria Paz Yangco, a younger half-sister of Teodoro from his father’s third wife. Maria Paz married Don Miguel Ossorio, making him Teodoro’s brother-in-law and an uncle to the twins by marriage.

One known, surviving photograph of the Miguel Ossorio family, cousins of the Godino twins. Lady on the left might be Paz Yangco-Ossorio; second young man behind her (Frederic?); senior man in middle is Don Miguel, patriarch of the family. Young lad kneeling could be Roberto. Alfonso, the painter, is on extreme right, who is the subject of a new play, “Angry Christ,” by Floy Quintos, playing at the University of the Philippines this very month, April 16-May 14, 2017.

One known, surviving photograph of the Miguel Ossorio family, cousins of the Godino twins. Lady on the left might be Paz Yangco-Ossorio; second young man behind her (Frederic?); senior man in middle is Don Miguel, patriarch of the family. Young lad kneeling could be Roberto. Alfonso, the painter, is on extreme right, who is the subject of a new play, “Angry Christ,” by Floy Quintos, playing at the University of the Philippines this very month, April 16-May 14, 2017.

Second, I belatedly came upon a 1929 Manila court case which pitted the same Miguel Ossorio against Juan Posadas, Jr., in the latter’s capacity as a tax assessor/collector for the Bureau of Internal Revenue service at the time. Posadas, who later became mayor of Manila, 1934-1940, was married to a grandaunt of mine, Rosario Garcia Posadas.

(The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miguel Ossorio in that tax case (G.R. No. L-31088 December 3, 1929). So there are these multiple, paternal, Zambales connections, being distantly related to the Magsaysays, Yangcos, and Mrs. Juan Posadas, Jr. (my Lola Charing).)

Third, I’ve always held that being twins, triplets or the other multiple variations are something special because they would always have that unique bond not everyone is accorded. A fourth reason appears more appropriately, later.]

Back in Manila

Back on home soil, the boys were enrolled in local schools in Paco. But stepdad Yangco enlarged his menagerie of the unique and eccentric. Per the memoir of granddaughter Anita Magsaysay, Yangco (“Lolo Dorong”), added other odd “circus” people to the household. There was Tiburcia, who crawled like an octopus; Benito, the dwarf who chewed glass; a true Cossack; and even a mini-zoo at the estate in Paco.

1929 was a big year for the twins when they turned 21. One, they legally turned of age. Two, their stepfather gifted his sons with their own automobile. Three, they solidified their musical talents with a band (which would be later called the “All Filipino Band.”)

The Godinos jamming with the “All Filipino Band” (Photo courtesy of Kadel and Herbert News)

The Godinos jamming with the “All Filipino Band” (Photo courtesy of Kadel and Herbert News)

The twins with their own Model T, a gift from their generous stepfather, Teodoro Yangco. This model T, however, had only one steering wheel.

The twins with their own Model T, a gift from their generous stepfather, Teodoro Yangco. This model T, however, had only one steering wheel.

Reports say that the car was specially outfitted with two steering wheels so that Lucio had the right-hand drive while Simplicio had the left. This might have been apocryphal because one, how could this have been possible? Two, it would still have cost a pretty penny even if their stepfather was a multimillionaire. Three, the picture above doesn’t show two steering wheels.

Solomonic Court Decision

Nonetheless, this supposed “dual-control” car caused another twin-only story. Out driving one day, their car crashed into a carabao-drawn cart, injuring the other driver. They were hauled to court, and Lucio was found guilty of reckless driving. He was sentenced to five days in jail. Simplicio, however, argued that he should not spend any time in the calaboose because he was innocent. Of course, since it wasn’t right to punish the innocent party, Lucio’s transgression was expunged and he and Simplicio were let go.

But the twins didn’t get to enjoy the car in Manila for very long because before they quickly got married. The next item on their 1929 list, their “All-Filipino Band” was offered a gig to play in San Francisco. No doubt, their “notoriety” played a part in their future musical bookings in North America.

High-End Luxury Automobile Genes

Since the twins’ stepfather was in the shipping and bus transport business, it should come as no surprise that the penchant for fancy automobiles ran in the Yangco family. Archives of the Rolls-Royce Company reveal that in 1934 the Godinos’ aunt, Maria Paz Yangco-Ossorio, by then living in London, purchased a 1934 Phantom II Continental Owen Sedanica Coupe (Chassis 117RY).

The Ossorios left Manila in 1927 but cooled their heels around Europe for a few years. While staying at the Dorchester Hotel in London in 1934, Mme. Ossorio needed wheels to get around. They walked into a Rolly Royce showroom and promptly ordered a 1934 Phantom II, thus becoming the first Filipino to purchase a Rolls-Royce with their own resources. (Take that, Imelda Marcos.)

This Phantom II Continental Owen Coupe was first owned by Mme. Paz Yangco Ossorio in London. After a series of other owners, the classic car was recently auctioned off in August 2016, at Carmel, California, for $650,000. (Source: Bonhams, Ltd.)

This Phantom II Continental Owen Coupe was first owned by Mme. Paz Yangco Ossorio in London. After a series of other owners, the classic car was recently auctioned off in August 2016, at Carmel, California, for $650,000. (Source: Bonhams, Ltd.)

But one Rolls-Royce wasn’t enough for Mme. Ossorio. The Phantom II Coupe was followed by two others: a 20/25HP model and, later, a Phantom III; they were shipped the following year to the Ossorios’ permanent new address in the US.

Herein lies the heart of the special significance of the Godino twins’ story. It was the stark contrast of destinies within one family. One “natural” branch lived a baronial, continental, one-percent life-style some of us can only dream of. The fair-haired sons went to institutions like Harvard and Yale, lived in large estates moved around in Rolls-Royces; pursued their dreams unfettered in such rarefied fields as ballet and art; all due to their great wealth from the Victorias Sugar Milling Company.

The other branch was “born poor,” malformed, was barely eking out a living due to some quirk of nature, but came upon good fortune in the beneficence of one man. Fate brought about the confluence of these two unequal branches, two worlds apart except that they became related in name and existed in the same bubble. Teodoro Yangco, however, was reportedly not very close to his much younger half-sister, Maria Paz Ossorio.)

Come August 1929, two months before the Big Crash of October 29, 1929, before the Tydings-McDuffie Act, before PanAm Clippers plied their trans-Pacific service, a time when the Philippine peso was on a par with the US dollar, events packed the twins’ schedule.

Just before their dual marriage ensued that August, another unique legal issue arose—about their upcoming marriage to their supposed childhood sweethearts, a pair of identical twins from their native Samar, Natividad and Victorina Motos. The marriage bureau in Manila raised the question of whether the twins should be considered as one individual or two separate persons. If they were recognized as one being, then marrying their fiancées would result in bigamy. Their weddings took place anyway in a grand ceremony at a pre-war St. Paul’s Cathedral in Manila.

The Godino boys married the Motos sisters in Manila, August 1929. This photo even inspired the four to appear in a stylized cartoon cover of a French magazine, Le Petit Journal Illustré—possibly the only Filipino foursome to grace that magazine’s cover. (Source:  Filipiknow)

The Godino boys married the Motos sisters in Manila, August 1929. This photo even inspired the four to appear in a stylized cartoon cover of a French magazine, Le Petit Journal Illustré—possibly the only Filipino foursome to grace that magazine’s cover. (Source:  Filipiknow)

A big group set out for the US shortly thereafter—the newlyweds and three of the twins’ band mates. It was also to be the honeymoon for the four Godinos, who now tried to steer an independent course. (They would pick up one or two more musicians in the US to fulfill their band engagements). Per Anita Magsaysay’s memoir, the Godino party’s departure for the US again in 1929 was the last time the Magsaysay and Yangco families saw them.

The Hiltons

Just for historical context, there was a third pair of conjoined twins in the first half of the 20th century, who had more traction than either the Godinos or the Bunkers. It was the Hilton sisters, Daisy and Violet (no relation to Paris), originally from the UK, but who like the other two twins in this story, also found fame and some fortune in the USA. Daisy and Violet were joined at the hip, pelvis and buttocks; they shared blood circulation but no major organs.

Over most of the Depression years, not much became known about the Godinos. But it was the Hilton twins who made headlines in the conjoined twin and vaudeville worlds. Like the Godinos, the Hiltons were accomplished musicians: Daisy was a violinist and Violet, a saxophonist; and they were pretty (and Caucasian). Like most everyone else over those desperate years, they also struggled to survive.

Daisy and Violet Hilton,1908-1969, starred in at least one feature film and became the subject of two stage musicals, “Side Show” (1997), being the better known one. In that show, the actual twin-body fusion is never literally recreated on stage—the actresses portraying the twins merely stand side by side. Very eerily, the Hiltons lived out their final days in North Carolina, very near the farm of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.

Daisy and Violet Hilton,1908-1969, starred in at least one feature film and became the subject of two stage musicals, “Side Show” (1997), being the better known one. In that show, the actual twin-body fusion is never literally recreated on stage—the actresses portraying the twins merely stand side by side. Very eerily, the Hiltons lived out their final days in North Carolina, very near the farm of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.

Like many claims Filipinos make to stroke their egos, reports that the Godinos’ story inspired the film, “Chained for Life,” are untrue. The film starred and for the most part, told the story of the Hilton sisters. The Godino twins were long gone by the time “Chained for Life” was made in 1951. The only thing in common was the story of conjoined twins.

In November 1936, the Godinos were back in New York City, presumably to reconnect with their medical acquaintances from 1918. It was not known if the Godinos reconnected at that time with their wealthier Ossorio cousins, who had just settled in Connecticut the year before.

Lucio had contracted rheumatic fever and died on November 24, 1936. Doctors successfully separated them so that Simplicio could live a few more days. Indeed, it was the first successful operation of its kind in history. No record, however, has been found of how inconsolable Simplicio must have been of the additional 12 days of life he had over Lucio. Simplicio then died on December 6, 1936.

It’s interesting to note that of the three sets of twins covered in this story, the Bunkers lived to a ripe old age of 63 (remarkable for the 19th century and in rural America no less); the Hilton ladies reached 61 while the Godinos barely made age 29.

The Godinos had no known children, and the whereabouts of their widows and resting places are all unknown.


Sources:

1. The Godino Twins article by Ambeth Ocampo, Philippine Inquirer, June 24, 2015 - http://opinion.inquirer.net/86092/the-godino-twins

2. http://www.filipiknow.net/10-fascinating-pinoy-vintage-photos-on-amazon-com/

3. Anita Magsaysay-Ho, a memoir, © 2000, A. Magsaysay, printed by Tien Wah Press, Singapore

4. https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/23425/lot/87/

5. http://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence1929/dec1929/gr_l-31088_1929.php

6. Horacio Pleno - https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=12891895


Myles A. Garcia is a Correspondent and regular contributor to  www.positivelyfilipino.com.   He is also the author of two books:  Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies, and Thirty Years Later . . . Catching Up with the Marcos-Era Crimespublished last year.  His first stage play, “23 Renoirs, 12 Picassos, . . . one Domenica”, will be getting a fully Staged Reading in San Francisco on May 22nd. 


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