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“A Pair of One”

Greta and Freda Chaplin

They were identical, inseparable and lived their entire lives in complete unison.

They were so alike in the way they thought, spoke, moved, dressed, looked, and lived, that children would thrown stones at them and called them witches and adults used to spit on them in the street.

This story of identical twins in England, this is a rare glimpse into the strange world of mutual identity-sisters who viewed the world through each others? eyes, living looking glasses. Greta and Freda Chaplin were identical twins who dressed alike, walked ?in step and for much of the time they spoke the same words in unison. They were inextricably bound to each other and if separated they wailed and screamed. There are many twins who dress alike and behave somewhat alike but the Chaplin twins have been described as one of the most uncanny. Their story sparkles with the crazy quirkiness of the far edges of humanity, yet it resonates with the essence of every human.

Greta and Freda?s relationship to each other appeared precarious and, in fact, as you looked at them, they seemed to sway slightly. You had the impression they were holding each other upright and that if you took one away, the other would fall down. They were like two people in a rowing boat. If the oars strike the water at the same time, the boat moved forward with ease. But if one oar is a moment late then a great effort is required to keep it on course and the boat will blunder its way through the water.

Greta and Freda made headlines around the world and baffled scientific experts, with their remarkable double-life.

The pair, of Moor Avenue, in Tang Hall, would dress alike, try to walk in step, eat in tandem, and often even speak in apparently perfect unison.

They shot to global fame and notoriety in the early 1980s, at the age of 38, when they were both jailed for a month for breaching the peace. They had been taken to court by lorry driver Kenneth Iveson, who claimed the pair had hounded him for years. It was said they had developed a joint obsession with him, possibly because a joint crush had been spurned.

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In court, onlookers were stunned when the pair uttered exactly the same sentences at the same time, without rehearsal or prompting.

One Tang Hall resident, who lived hear the pair’s home for many years, said: “You could not part them. They used to come here and if I gave them biscuits they would both reach for the same biscuit at the same time. They were inseparable, and loved one another.”

She said she had been quite close to the twins. “They used to come for tea, or I would do some shopping for them or cook for them.

Amid the media storm following the court case, psychologists and psychiatrists spent time with the pair, exploring their personalities. They were found to have identical mannerisms and gestures, and were once even seen jointly holding a frying pan, in which they were cooking a single egg.

? Juliet Darling Greta and Freda, Winter Park, London.

? Juliet Darling
Greta and Freda, Winter Park, London.

The daughters of James and Elsie Chaplin, it was said that Freda and Greta had been ordinary children until the age of about 11, before becoming ultra-dependent on one another. They would scream when teachers made them sit apart in school, and would resist efforts to distinguish or divide them.

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In 1980 Greta and Freda appeared in court in York, and attracted the attention of the media because they made the same gestures at the same time, smiling simultaneously, raising their hands to their mouths at the same moment and so on… ?Freda and Greta, were in court for a peculiar reason: they had both apparently developed a powerful “crush” on a man called Ken Iveson, who used to live next door, and had been pursuing him for fifteen years.

The unfortunate Ken Iveson had grown up next door to the Chaplins; he married, but continued to live at his parents’ home with his wife and children. Neither he nor his parents had ever set foot inside their neighbours’ house; they were never asked in and never saw anyone else pay social calls. Iveson would pass the time of day with the girls, who, isolated from the outside world, obviously took this as some kind of romantic encouragement.

They seemed to have had rather a curious way of showing affection, shouting abuse, and hitting him with their handbags. When this had been going on for fifteen years, Mr Iveson decided to ask the court for protection.

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The publicity surrounding the court case led to various medical studies of the twins. Their obsession with Mr Iveson was defined medically as erotomania, a condition in which a patient sinks into melancholy or mental disturbance due to romantic love. At school they had been slow, but not backward, and teachers described them as neat, clean, and quiet. The deputy headmaster placed the blame on their mother. “It was quite clear that they had a doting mother who never allowed them a separate identity.” They were apparently dressed identically and had no friends.

The other kids just saw them as a bit quaint. I don’t think they were acutely isolated then or maladjusted.’ They had not, at that point, begun to speak simultaneously.

Clearly their mother’s attitude towards them had triggered off a pattern of abnormal behaviour, perhaps aided by their biological affinity. Both parents seem to have been uncommunicative and friendless and Mrs Chaplin is said to be obsessively houseproud. This emphasis on cleanliness may explain why the twins’ only apparent pleasure is bathing together, grooming each other, washing each others long hair. They are said to have used an average of several bars of soap and three large bottles of shampoo each week.

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The twins showed a tendency to the “mirror imaging” which is often typical of identical twins. (That is to say if one is left handed, the other will be right handed, if the twirls of hair grow clockwise in one, they will grow anti-clockwise on the other and so on). One twin wears a bracelet on the left wrist, the other on the right. When one broke a shoelace, the other removed her own shoelace on the opposite side.

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At some point the twins had been forced to leave home – neither they nor their mother would disclose why. But the twins’ parents had, it transpired, forced them to leave home. When asked about this, Freda and Greta reply as one: “Something must have happened. Yes yes yes. Something strange. Must have happened.’

Mr and Mrs Chaplin refuse to talk to the press, and exactly why the twins left is not known.

In their late thirties,?they were unmarried and jobless; they lived in a local service hostel. They cooked breakfast in their room together, both holding the frying pan, and then went out in identical clothes. They told a woman journalist that they had one brain, and were really one person, claiming to know exactly what the other is thinking. Their “simultaneous behaviour” suggests that some form of telepathy exists between them. They occasionally quarrel, hitting one another lightly with identical handbags, then sulking for hours. But in spite of these disagreements, it seems clear that their common aim is to exclude the external world and live in their own private universe.

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The women?s extreme closeness intrigued the scientific world, and some experts say they genuinely appeared to share one mind between two bodies. They did everything together, scream, sulk, if parted and most uncannily, talked in unison when under stress, speaking the same words in identical voice patterns that created a weird echo effect.

Doctors reported they had never before encountered such a case and said they twins were so close they almost seem linked by telepathy.

When the twins first became news and they appeared before magistrates in their home city of York to plead guilty to breach of the peace, the charge was relatively innocuous. The facts revealed by police were bizarre for the time, now it would be called stalking.

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The unmarried twins shared an obsessional romantic fixation on truck driver Kenneth Iveson, a former neighbour. He used to chat to them but dropped the friendship when he married.

The twins began hounding him, constantly following him to work and hanging outside his home and the club where he drunk. Eventually they took to screaming abuse at him in the street. When they threw themselves in front of his car, Iveson went to the police. The charge resulted.

The magistrates sent the twins to remand centre at Durham Jail for medical examinations. When they appeared again in court, Dr David Westbury, a psychiatrist, reported: ?This is an extraordinary experience and one I have never encountered before in the whole of my career. There is no medical explanation or medical solution to the problem.?

Westbury said the twins are articulate and of normal intelligence and were not suffering from mental illness, but from a personality disorder.

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In addition, a senior psychiatrist said, ?Their total parallel identity, particularly their constant oneness in speaking, takes them far beyond any other sets of identical twins known to medical medicine. This must be the nearest thing the world has ever seen to a daily-unrehearsed dazzling display of telepathy.

The magistrates deferred sentencing and said meantime that they must stay away from Iveson. From the dock the twins replied in unison: ?We have learnt our lesson. We have been to prison and we won?t bother him again.?

But when they reappeared in court again a few months later, each wearing one pink mitten and one brown woollen glove, police said they?d broken their promise by again following Iveson to work and standing outside his factory.

The court ordered a suspended one-month sentence, meaning they will each have to spend a month in prison if the bothered Iveson again.

The affair prompted numerous news stories, and social workers tried to? advise them against more interviews, fearing efforts to help them would backfire and the twins would be seen as freaks. But officials were given some details of their life, described by a social worker as ?one mind in two bodies.?

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The twins parents had dressed them identically and encouraged their closeness to the extent that they screamed if parted. They had lived with their parents until they were 27 years old, when they moved into an apartment in a hostel run by the York council?s social services department.

Their strange condition of having to be together 24 hours a day, meant holding down normal jobs and leading normal lives almost impossible. The women lived mostly on welfare since leaving home. At one stage they were sent to different hospitals in a bid to establish more separate identities. They refused to eat or talk to doctors, and arranged secret meetings by telephone.

They were so close they slept in the same bed, cooked breakfast together while both holding the frying pan handle and use identical soap. When a social worker gave one green soap and the other pink they wept. Each cake of soap had to be cut in two so each twin had one green and one pink piece. When coat buttons failed to match the twins swapped them around so each had an equal number of green and black.

They spent their days at an occupational therapy unit, arranging the same flowers and sharing the same knitting wool. Talking or moving their hands always moved in unison.

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They eventually befriended another resident at the hostel, an elderly woman, and would visit her room for tea. Social workers saw this as an encouraging sign that they were starting to take an interest in the world beyond each other.

?There is some strange communication between them, something subliminal,? the director or York social services said. Keith Coxon who with his wife runs the hostel where they lived said: ?They?re intelligent and sensitive, they must have suffered terribly. The fact is that the outside world doesn?t understand them. They?re looked on as freaks instead of a classic medical and psychological phenomenon.

The sisters were inseparable until 2007,?when Greta died?of cancer at age 64,?at Oak Rise, in Acomb, and it is believed Freda is also now at a care home.

Freda is very frail now, and has a pet dog she walks?while?visiting?her sister?s grave everyday. She has covered the grave with flowers and toys, and spends a lot of time there.

But does erotomania or any form of schizophrenia – entirely explain the Chaplins’ behaviour, especially their strange way of speaking? In their case there seem to be many highly influential factors – genetic, environmental, social – that have made them the objects of sympathy and derision.

Perhaps the Chaplins’ peculiarity of speech was?just one aspect of the way the twins communicated with one another. Better known is idioglossia, the phenomenon in which two individuals, most often twin children, develop between them a unique and private language complete with highly original vocabulary and syntax.

It is, however, commonly confused with a sub-category, twin speech – a private collection of distorted words and idioms used. it is estimated, by 40 per cent of all twins because they feel isolated, or secretive, or both. Most twins tend to give it up at the age of three,

Video: Short Stories – A Pair of One, Freda & Greta Chaplin

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Famous city twin sister dies at 64 (From York Press)

Identical Twins Greta (left) And Freda Chaplin: They Can’t …

All Photos😕Juliet Darling

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