Frowned upon today as exploitive 'freak shows' were once a normal part of the entertainment landscape across America.

Grand Rapids was no stranger to that trend as a prominent downtown building was once a 'museum' that housed one such freakshow.

The building at 14 Pearl that is now home to Flanagan's Pub was once the site of Crane's Museum of Freaks, Snakes and Whiskered Ladies. The building that housed that 'museum' is long gone, lost to a fire so the current Flanagan's is on that site but not the same structure.

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Similar to a traveling 10 in 1 show Crane's 'museum' featured the abnormal attractions but in one location. Admission was 10 cents.

There's little of the story that remains of Crane's. A pictural history of the city, "Old Grand Rapids: A Picture Story of Old Conditions" gives it no more than a passing reference when looking at that particular block of Pearl Street.

Freak Show
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A Reddit thread on the subject places the museum as being active around 1870 - the same date as the photo from the Old Grand Rapids book.

The post-Civil War era was the heyday of the traveling freak show. Wikipedia says,

In the early 1800s, single human oddities started joining traveling circuses, but these shows were not organized into anything like the sideshows we know until the midcentury. During the 1870s it was common to see freak shows at most circuses, eventually making the circus a hub for the display of human oddities.

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Grand Rapids was certainly part of that national trend. Half a century later the tide began to turn to the display of 'human curiosities.' The state of Michigan was one of the first (and still only) states in America to outlaw freak shows. In 1931

Michigan bans the exhibition of “deformed human beings” in the act: 750.347 Deformed human beings; exhibition. Michigan is only one of a small handful of states that have outright banned freak shows, most states in the US still permit them.

So had the Crane's museum not burned down, their days appeared to have been numbered.

Editor's Notes: The images that accompany this article are representative of 'oddities shows' rather than specific to the Grand Rapids museum. A similar version of this story was originally published on our network here.

Freak Shows and Side Shows

The Freak Show, which became the side show, has been traveling around the nation since the 1830's. Today many of these traveling performances have been banned and made illegal in several states. Coney Island in New York has the last permanently housed not for profit venue in the USA where you can experience the thrill of a traditional ten-in-one circus sideshow.

Gallery Credit: Karolyi

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