Writer Margaret Engel (left) and her twin sister, Allison, at the Twins Day Festival last summer. Photo by Liz Lynch.

 

The World’s Largest Gathering

of twins and triplets occurs just 19 miles southwest of our hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, yet my identical twin, Allison Engel, and I had never attended, despite the fact that we’re extremely close. We finally managed to get there last August, when we showed up for the 43rd annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. It was an eye-popping extravaganza of 1,466 sets of multiples, nearly all dressed identically to their siblings.

Except for look-alike coats handed down from our two older sisters, we stopped dressing alike as toddlers. (We’re 67.) To blend in at the festival, we’d found matching blouses at Macy’s and straw hats on Canal Street in Manhattan. I live in Bethesda, and Allison divides her time between California and Iowa, but we talk almost daily and were together in New York City a few weeks before the festival.

In the 90-degree Ohio heat, that was enough of a costume for us. We didn’t dress according to the year’s game theme (think Scrabble tiles, Twister mats, Rubik’s cubes), but it was a delight to see the hundreds who did. Twins arrived from Australia, China, India, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Iceland, Congo, Israel and Romania, among other countries, and shopped for T-shirts that read: “I love my womb mate” or “I’m the favorite.” We ran into 37-year-old identical twin broadcasters from Baltimore, both wearing Orioles jerseys, and 55-year-old ministers—dressed as H.G. Wells time travelers—who laughed at the same time.

The entire weekend festival was a hoot, with a Double Take parade, a group photo, a Royal Court crowning and a talent show. There were huge lines to get into the booths at the Twins Research patio, where Allison and I filled out surveys, provided DNA samples, got photographed, endured taste tests (to see if twins tasted sweet and sour items the same way) and had our fingerprints taken.

Researchers from the FBI and West Virginia University conducted facial recognition and fingerprint studies—twins’ prints can be a challenge because they are often nearly identical—and hospital representatives studied aging. (Twins volunteer for the studies after signing release forms.) We were rewarded with $115 cash and swag, like $30 face creams from Olay.

After talking to dozens of people, our own unscientific conclusion was that multiples tend to talk alike and use the same hand gestures, frequently live together (or close by) and often have identical careers. We ran into pairs of English teachers, American Airlines crew members, Procter & Gamble product managers, biomedical engineers and sports coaches, all identical twins. Waiters Keoki and Cory Talley of Niles, Ohio, used to work each other’s shift to give themselves extra vacation time. After two years, they got caught, and now they have to work the same shift.

As twins roamed the festival grounds meeting other sets of twins, we heard the same question repeatedly: “Are you Twin A or Twin B?” Twin A is the firstborn. Twin B is supposedly less dominant. Many twins finished each other’s sentences and walked with identical gaits. We saw octogenarian twins being greeted by hipster twins they knew from past festivals.

There were “most alike” and “least alike” competitions for various ages, all judged by twins. I convinced Allison to enter the “most alike” contest with me, even though we’re hardly mirror images, so we could meet other pairs. As predicted, we didn’t win, but we did receive a “participation” ribbon. We got to meet Verna and Viola Mueller, 86-year-old Mennonite twins from Willow Street, Pennsylvania, who handed out copies of their motto: “You can only make a good impression once, but we make it twice.”

Also at the festival were 25 pairs of twins who volunteered to join the wedding party of two sets of identical twins. The wedding couples, who met at the 2017 festival, married while we were there, in front of Twinsburg’s town hall.

We saw twins who showed up despite one of them having a broken leg, and several instances of one twin pushing another in a wheelchair. Twins Carolyn Harden and Katherine Dill attended even though Carolyn had left the hospital a day earlier after giving birth to her first child. The 31-year-olds have attended the gathering every year since they were 8 days old.

“Everyone here understands the strength of our bond,” said Dill, of Garfield Heights, Ohio. “It is undeniable. It’s the most special part of our lives.”

We agree. When we were in elementary school, Allison and I took part in a study on extrasensory perception at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. One twin would hold a playing card, and the other, who was floors below, had to guess which card it was. We had a very high score. We shared the same best friends growing up and still have some of the same friends as adults. We married very similar men and we both have two children, a boy and a girl. Together, we’ve written four books, three plays, and several magazine and newspaper articles. Like many twins, we’ve sent our mother (and each other) the same cards and bought the same coats, purses and shoes, all unplanned.

Unlike moms today, my mother didn’t know she was having twins. Two minutes after Allison was born, the doctor blurted out, “Oh my God, there’s another one.”

 

Bethesda resident Margaret Engel is a journalist and playwright, as is her identical twin, Allison Engel.