For a taste of the unalloyed strangeness of the past you have to bypass the fine art and cultivated histories and look to the ephemera. The Frolie Grasshopper Circus (1898) is an uncredited booklet for American children made to promote Quaker Oats, and it does so in a manner far removed from today’s bland and focus-grouped campaigns. The combination of grasshoppers and oats brings to mind crop-devastating swarms of locusts. And who are these slit-eyed insect-wrangling imps? The one on the cover is wearing a pair of stilt shoes like Horrabin the evil clown in Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates while one of his confederates bears the emblem of some sinister insect cult. There’s more to this grotesque parade than meets the eye. The Internet Archive has all 16 pages if you need to know more.
Update: I’ve been informed that the illustrations were by William Cheseborough Ostrander.