Don’t ever let your grandparents tell you that Minneapolis is wilder and crazier now than it’s ever been, because when they were growing up, they could get a pet monkey for what seems like way, way too little money.
A vintage ad recently posted to Facebook proposed a cunning deal on squirrel monkeys from Circus Pets of America, located on West Lake Street. One of these “darling human-like pets” was yours for a money order of $19.95, or two for $35. The ad said they grow up to a foot tall and “eat what you eat.”
Also, a relief: “guaranteed live delivery.”
After that, presumably, you’d be on your own.
There's a curious internet void for the (obviously long gone) Circus Pets of America shop. A single Google result from an archived book indicates the store was at 3025 W. Lake St., right off Bde Maka Ska, in a wedge of land now occupied by a Minneapolis Fire Department station.
Farfetched as it sounds, some Facebook commenters claimed to have friends who’d bought a monkey of their own back in the late ‘60s.
“They had it for years,” one commenter said. “They throw poop when they are mad.”
City Pages wasn’t able to reach the alleged witness to said poop-throwing, but the Minnesota Historical Society confirmed that yes, this was a thing. (The monkey sales, that is. We did not ask about the poop thing.)
A 1958 article in the Minneapolis Tribune featured a pet shop owner (unnamed) who estimated some 120 monkeys were sold as pets in the Twin Cities that year. Squirrel monkeys were the most popular, followed by capuchins. You could reportedly get one for about $40 in those days. (That’s actually closer to about $360 in today’s money.)
That is, unless you were going for a chimpanzee, which you could have delivered to the Southdale shopping center for about $1,400.
“Their popularity hinges on their behavior,” the article said. “Interesting, intelligent, and little more trouble than a child.”
A 1956 Minneapolis Star story reported parents could purchase their children monkeys, toucans, burros, or the odd “purebred Shetland pony” or two, straight out of a Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog. In a coincidence of page design, a picture of a happy, smiling child sitting atop a donkey appeared next to an adjacent headline: “Woman finds mate, father-in-law dead.”
By 1968, an article by naturalist and film producer Roger Caras bemoaned the out-of-control popularity of exotic pets as an ill-conceived venture taken on by the ill-prepared. It would seem that "little more trouble than a child" was a bit of an undersell.
“It’s fair to say that if these people knew what they were letting themselves in for, few would persist in their intent,” he wrote. “There is an old saying among zookeepers, ‘God never made a monkey that didn’t bite.’”
Chimpanzees, he continued, could be “perfect gentlemen” one day and “practically tear your hand off” the next.
Monkey ownership is an equally dubious prospect for the animal itself, as we were all reminded in 2018, when the leathery mummified remains of a little primate were found in the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s building.
After some collective head scratching, Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy claimed his father, Larry, had stolen that monkey from the Dayton’s display back in the ‘60s and brought it to a friend’s house, where it promptly “shat” all over the bedroom while they were at school.
They returned to Dayton’s and turned the thing loose in the store, where it apparently curled up and died, and nobody went home happy.
Times have changed. After 2005, when various counties and cities began banning them, exotic pets like monkeys became subject to registration and inspection across Minnesota. But like fireworks, and other possessions that could potentially do massive damage to your hands and face, they are not illegal to buy. Only to possess.
With the magic of the internet, a heaping dollop of poor judgment, and probably (still) way too little money, you could still buy yourself a monkey.
And God have mercy on your soul.