World’s longest surviving conjoined twins worked carnival sideshow act die at the age of 68

The world’s oldest set of conjoined twins, Ronnie and Donnie Gaylon, 68, died on July 4, in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio.   

Ronnie and Donnie Galyon have been turning heads simply because they were born on October 28, 1951 to parents Eileen and Wesley Gaylon, who have been not expecting twins, notably less conjoined twins. 

They were healthier babies, weighing 11 pounds, 11.5 ounces, however they spent the first couple of years of their life in the hospital as medical practioners struggled to find out a safe way to safely separate them. When they certainly were told there clearly was no guarantee that both boys would survive the surgery, Wesley and Eileen refused to use on their sons.

For 68 years, the brothers lived face-to-face, fused from the sternum to the groin with one set of lower digestive organs. They were each born with separate hearts and stomachs and had their own set of legs and arms.   

Donnie (left) and Ronnie (right) were born in October 1951, they broke Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest conjoined twins if they turned 63 in 2014. They died this past weekend, on July 4 at the age of 68 after spending the last a decade of their life experiencing various health problems

Donnie (left) and Ronnie Galyon sit inside their Dayton, Ohio, home in 2014, the same year they broke the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest set of conjoined twins. The brothers were born fused from the chest down to their groin with a shared lower-digestive track. Each had their own heart, stomach and set of arms and legs

Donnie (left) and Ronnie Galyon sit of their Dayton, Ohio, home in 2014, the same year they broke the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest set of conjoined twins. The brothers were born fused from the chest right down to their groin with a shared lower-digestive track. Each had their very own heart, stomach and set of arms and legs

The brothers entered the circus as sideshow performers starting at age three. They were exhibited in an air conditioned trailer and spectators paid to watch them live daily life., they retired from the circus in 1991 and Ronnie (right) said: 'We had fun when we were growing up'

The brothers entered the circus as sideshow performers starting at age three. They were exhibited in a air conditioned trailer and spectators paid to watch them live lifestyle., they retired from the circus in 1991 and Ronnie (right) said: ‘We had fun when we were growing up’

When the boys turned three, their father made the decision to take them on the carnival circuit as a way to support his growing family of nine kids. They were managed by Ward Hall, the legendary carnival impresario, and traveled around Canada and the United States in Hall’s infamous ‘World of Wonders’ sideshow under the marquis: ‘Alive personally – Galyon Siamese twins!’ 

According to Ward Hall’s biography, the twins mother rejected them if they were born – leaving them primarily to be raised by their father, Wesley and later their stepmother Mary.

Burdened by colossal medical bills that racked up from the twins first couple of years spent in the hospital and pressure to raise his family, Wesley decided to enter Donnie and Ronnie in the carnival where they’d a lucrative career until they retired in 1991. 

‘That was the only income. They were the breadwinners,’ said their youngest brother Jim, who was born when the Donnie and Ronnie were aged 11.  

The twins learned to walk when they were 29 months, learning to just take turns on who would walk backwards. Their parents hired helpers to instruct them each and every day tasks such as for example tying shoes, using the toilet and learning how exactly to work with one another as each brother came to be right handed – still another complexity that required intense coordination. 

Ronnie and Donnie Galyon pose in their cowboy suits on their third birthday in Dayton. The boys learned how to walk at 29 months, taking turns going backwards. Their father made the decision to take them on the carnival circuit as a way to support his growing family of nine children

Ronnie and Donnie Galyon pose in their cowboy suits on the third birthday in Dayton. The boys learned how exactly to walk at 29 months, taking turns going backwards. Their father made the decision to take them on the carnival circuit as a way to support his growing family of nine children

Donie (left) and Ronnie Gaylon (right) are pictured at 28-years-old. The two right-handed brothers had to learn to coordinate daily activities from cooking and cleaning to using the toilet. As teenagers, they would often come to blows, 'But that's understandable when you got somebody right there 24-7, seven days a week, year after year after year,' said their younger brother Jim

Donie (left) and Ronnie Gaylon (right) are pictured at 28-years-old. The two right-handed brothers had to understand to coordinate daily activities from cooking and cleaning to using the toilet. As teenagers, they’d often arrive at blows, ‘But that’s understandable when you got somebody there 24-7, seven days per week, year after year after year,’ said their younger brother Jim

Donnie and Ronnie were denied from attending the local school because officials said they’d be too distracting to other students. ‘It was a different era,’ said their brother Jim. 

Their IQs were determined to be in the average range, but according to J. David Smith’s book, Psychological Profiles of Conjoined Twins, they seemed slower due to a lack of formal education. 

The twins exhibited themselves in an air-conditioned trailer for some of their carnival show careers. They lounged about watching television while spectators paid to peer in the window to see them conduct daily life. Old advertisements read: ‘Still a sensation! The Gaylon Siamese twins, the U.S.’s most visited attraction on any Midway.’ 

Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand in 1811, became famous as 'the Siamese Twins' were the previous record holders as the longest living conjoined twins. They eventually settled in North Carolina, bought slaves, married local sisters, and fathered 21 children before they died at the age of 62

Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand in 1811, became famous as ‘the Siamese Twins’ were the previous record holders as the longest living conjoined twins. They eventually settled in North Carolina, bought slaves, married local sisters, and fathered 21 kids before they died at the age of 62

Ronnie and Donnie found a residential area among the sideshow performers and workers who ran the concession stands. Their friends included Johann the Viking Giant; Little Pete, who was billed as the smallest man in the world, and Margaret Pellegrini, an actress who performed as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz.

‘When we were on the road, it had been all like one big family,’ said Ronnie to MLive in 2014.

As freak shows and carnival acts became taboo in the United States all through the 1970s, the ‘Sensational Siamese Twins’ took their act to Central and South America where they performed as the headlining act in the circus doing magic tricks.  

‘They were treated many different down there,’ said their brother Jim. ‘They were treated like rock stars.’ 

Though Donnie and Ronnie mastered the art of compromise over the years, it wasn’t always easy. Some arguments even escalated to fisticuffs, particularly when they were teenagers. At the age of 14, one twin broke his foot after kicking a trailer in a fit of anger. 

The physical blows stopped when the brothers began taking blood thinners and realized that the fight could easily turn fatal. 

‘They enter it verbally, of course,’ said Jim to MLive in 2014. ‘But that’s understandable whenever you got some body right there 24-7, seven days a week, year in year out after year.’ 

The brothers always insisted they certainly were best friends. They both shared a love for fishing, camping, collecting baseball cards, the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Reds. 

Never married, Donnie did most of the cooking, dishes and laundry while Ronnie cleaned the bathroom and did most of the talking. The brothers cast two votes, had two Social Security numbers but traveled under only 1 passport. 

The twins were completely self-sufficient until 2010 when they needed full time medical care after Ronnie developed blood clots in his lungs as the result of a viral infection. It affected Donnie too, and both were left weak. They also began to suffer from debilitating arthritis that made it difficult and unsafe for them to live alone in their Dayton home

The twins were completely self-sufficient until 2010 when they needed full time health care bills after Ronnie developed blood clots in his lungs as the result of a viral infection. It affected Donnie too, and both were left weak. They also began to suffer with debilitating arthritis that managed to get difficult and unsafe to allow them to live alone in their Dayton home

The brothers insisted they were best always friends and shared a love for fishing, camping, collecting baseball cards, the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Reds

The brothers insisted they were most readily useful always friends and shared a love for fishing, camping, collecting baseball cards, the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Reds

The survival rate for conjoined twins can be ranging from 5-25%. For the Gaylon twins, the biggest health scare they suffered happened in 2009 and 2010. Ronnie developed blood clots in his lungs as the result of a viral illness. It affected Donnie too, and both were left weak. 

They also began to suffer with debilitating arthritis that managed to get difficult and unsafe to allow them to live alone in their Dayton home. 

After the twins were released from the hospital, they required constant health care bills which saw the community of Dayton, Ohio bond to build them a specialized home that accommodated their two-person wheelchair and was closer to their brother Jim who took the responsibility of taking care of his  brothers full time. 

‘That’s kind of giving it right back right now. I don’t get it done because of that, but I feel like that,’ Jim told MLive.com in 2010. ‘They paid for all of us growing up.’ 

In 2014, Donnie and Ronnie celebrated their longevity if they became the oldest living set of conjoined twins in the Guinness Book of World Records. The prior record holders were Chang and Eng Bunker, Chinese brothers that were born in Thailand in 1811 and lived to the age of 62. 

Of the milestone, Ronnie told the Dayton Daily News in 2014: ‘It’s what me and Donnie’s always wanted, and hopefully to get the ring, because we’ve wanted getting this since we were young ones.’ 

Despite their unconventional life, Donnie and Ronnie were clear that they lived their life with no regrets. ‘We had fun whenever we were growing up,’ said Ronnie. Donnie echoed the sentiment, ‘We’ve had a nice life.’ 

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