LIMA — With a simple “yep” uttered in February 1979, Jim Lewis, of Lima, and Jim Springer, of Dayton, landed in the middle of the age-old argument over why we are like we are.
Mike Lackey recounted the moment in a Feb. 19, 1979, story in The Lima News. “The two men had talked on the telephone for a couple of minutes, asking careful, tentative questions,” Lackey wrote of the Feb. 5, 1979, phone call. “Then James E. Lewis took a deep breath and asked, ‘Are you my brother?’
“At the other end of the line James Springer answered, ‘Yep.’ And, nearly 40 years after their birth, the identical twin brothers were reunited.”
The “Jim Twins” story caught the attention of the national media and, more importantly, University of Minnesota psychologist Thomas Bouchard Jr., sparking a major study of twins reared apart and the impact of heredity, as opposed to environment, on such things as personality, intelligence and interests.
Lewis and Springer were born Aug. 19, 1939, at Piqua Memorial Hospital to an unwed 15-year-old immigrant, who immediately put them up for adoption. The brothers were separated four weeks later when one of them was adopted by Ernest Springer and his wife Sarah, who brought him to their home in Piqua. The second boy was adopted two weeks later by Lima schools employee Jess Lewis and his wife, Lucille.
“Neither the Springers nor the Lewises ever met the 15-year-old (unwed) mother of their sons, and both couples were told that their adoptive child had a twin who died at birth,” according to a story in the May 7, 1979, edition of People magazine. “Then one day, when Jim Lewis was 16 months old, his mother visited the Miami County courthouse to settle the adoption paperwork, and an official remarked offhandedly, ‘they named the other little boy Jim, too.’ For 37 years that hint tugged at Mrs. Lewis, who occasionally urged her son to find out if it was true.”
“I knew all those years that he had a brother,” Mrs. Lewis told Lackey in February 1979, “and I worried whether he had a home, and whether he was all right …” When the chance came later to adopt twin brothers, she rejected court officials’ suggestions that she take only one. “’I’ve already got one boy separated from his brother,’ she told them. ‘I don’t want another.’”
Lewis couldn’t explain why, at the age of 39, he finally took up the search for his brother. “The continued urging of his mother, and then of his fiancée, Sandy Jacobs, had something to do with it, but there was more,” Lackey wrote.
“’I can’t tell you why,” Lewis said. “It was just like the time was right.”
The “Jim Twins” were reunited Feb. 9, 1979, at Springer’s home. “We both said the same thing — we didn’t know what to say,” Lewis told Lackey.
Bouchard, the University of Minnesota psychologist, knew what to say. He contacted the twins.
“Lewis confirmed today that he and his identical twin, separated shortly after birth more than 39 years ago and reunited for the first time last month are leaving Sunday for Minneapolis,” the News wrote March 6, 1979.
“We’re almost positive they’re the best case (of monozygotic twins reared apart) in the literature, especially since we’re going to be able to study them so soon (after their reunion). This is the kind of opportunity that comes along once in a generation of psychologists,” Bouchard told the News.
The “Jim Twins,” it turned out, shared much more than genetic makeup and a given name. Each married and then divorced a woman named Linda. Their second wives were both named Betty. Each man grew up with an adopted brother named Larry, and during childhood each owned a dog named Toy. Their first-born sons are named James Alan Lewis and James Allan Springer.
Both had law enforcement training and had worked part time as deputy sheriffs. They shared many common interests, such as mechanical drawing, block lettering and carpentry. Both said their favorite school subject was math while spelling was their least favorite. They vacationed at the same three-block long beach near St. Petersburg, Florida, both getting there and back in a Chevrolet.
Springer in 1979 told the New York Times magazine the similarities were “downright spooky.” Lewis added that “we even use the same slang.”
In May 1979, Bouchard, visiting Lewis in Lima, told the News, “If somebody else brought some of this stuff to me and said, ‘this is what I’ve got,’ I’d say I didn’t believe it.”
Publicity about the “Jim Twins” drew more pairs of separately reared identical twins into Bouchard’s study. “The latest pair to volunteer for the study called Bouchard after seeing Springer and Lewis on Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight’ show last Thursday,” the News wrote. In addition to Carson, the brothers appeared with David Hartman, Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore. They also were guests on many local shows, the news programs of the major networks. People, Newsweek, Time, Look, Us, Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping magazines all did articles on them.
The twins returned to Minnesota in November 1987 for the second phase of the study, which, according to a Nov. 5, 1987, Associated Press story, examined how twins change as they age and whether those changes occur at the same time and in the same way for both twins.
“The first phase of the project has led university researchers to conclude that at least 50 percent of the twins’ personalities are genetically determined, rather than being determined by their environment,” the AP reported.
Lewis and Springer told the AP their similarities had not grown stronger, although they now saw each other every few months. They were, however, still amazed by the similarities. “Other people point it out to us,” Lewis told the AP. “We don’t spend a lot of time studying each other.”
Others did that for them. In an article titled “The Mysteries of Twins,” the Washington Post Magazine, on Jan. 11, 1998, noted that “statistics have shown that on average, identical twins tend to be around 80 percent the same in everything from stature to health to IQ to political views. The similarities are partly the product of similar upbringing. But evidence from the comparison of twins raised apart points rather convincingly to genes as the source of a lot of that likeness. In the most widely publicized study of this type, launched in 1979, University of Minnesota psychologist Thomas Bouchard and his colleagues have chronicled the fates of about 60 pairs of identical twins raised separately. Some of the pairs had scarcely met before Bouchard contacted them, and yet the behaviors and personalities and social attitudes they displayed in lengthy batteries of tests were often remarkably alike.”
As for Lewis and Springer, the article noted, “When journalists first began interviewing Bouchard’s twins-raised apart, they focused on spectacularly similar pairs, like the Springer-Lewis twins. But those twins turned out to be outliers in the Minnesota study. Most of the other twins weren’t nearly as alike. Furthermore, since no one is claiming there is a gene for flushing the toilet before you use it, or a gene for marrying women named Betty, such coincidences are statistical anomalies, as Bouchard is quick to acknowledge.”
Lewis and Springer are 75 now. Lewis lives in Elida and Springer in Dayton. They’ve stayed in touch.
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]