Reykjavik, May 17 Reuters
At the Icelandic Phallological Museum it’s members only. Eighty-two of them. Either dried on wall mounts or pickled in preserving jars.
The aim of what founder and director Sigurdur Hjartarson describes as a unique museum is to exhibit at least one specimen of the penis of every mammal native to Iceland or its waters.
When man first settled the rugged North Atlantic island in the ninth century, there was only one native mammal, the Arctic fox.
Others have come with man, and now there are about 38 species in all, including around 15 whales, depending on how many whales you count as Icelandic.
So far Hjartarson, a bearded figure who could pass for a mild-mannered Icelandic troll, has 36 of them, and is now lacking just one small whale and a man.
The man is taken care of, however.
On the wall is an official letter from 83-year-old Pall Arason, who describes himself as "a worthy disciple of Don Juan" and who has promised his organ to the museum on his death.
Arason, a pioneer of the tourist industry on the sparsely inhabited island, where he is a noted womaniser, now lives in retirement on his farm of Bugur in northern Iceland, but has already been awarded the title of honorary member of the museum.
Two local doctors are on standby for his demise — if they can get to him while he is still warm they will be able to exhibit his penis erect, Hjartarson says.
Not surprisingly, the longest exhibit is that of a blue whale, the world’s biggest living creature, although like most of the whale specimens, only the tip is present.
Nevertheless, about one third of a blue whale penis measures about one metre and weighs 36kg. A full specimen would have been about three metres.
The largest in terms of girth is the sperm whale phallus. Again, only the tip, about 40 percent of the full organ, is present, but it weighs in at 57kg.
The smallest is the penis of a field mouse.
Unfortunately, most of the whale organs were not scientifically prepared, which is why only the tips are exhibited.
Most were retrieved from stranded whales. When a whale dies part of its penis dangles out of its body, but the base is still held inside.
Nevertheless, even the tips of these huge mammals can cause difficulties.
"The problem with big pieces is I can’t get big bottles," Hjartarson said. Now he uses plexiglass cylinders, sealed off at the end.
The idea for the museum gradually unfolded in 1987, when Hjartarson was a headmaster in the fishing town of Akranes in western Iceland.
Some of his teachers worked part-time at the local whaling station, and brought him sample penises.
"Then the idea developed that it might be interesting to get specimens from all of the Icelandic mammals," he said.
The museum finally opened in August 1997, with a 200,000 Icelandic crown ($NZ4910) grant from Reykjavik city council, in which a feminist party is part of the ruling coalition. Either because of, or despite, the feminists, the grant was approved, as the city is keen to develop tourism.
Hjartarson, 57, says he has had 3000 visitors in the 21 months since the museum opened, and the main revenue is the 300 crown entrance fee.
There is also a wide range of shiny wooden phallic keyrings, salt and pepper pots, lavatory roll holders and the like, all carved by Hjartarson, but sales are not significant.
"I’m almost breaking even. I haven’t got back my investment but I’ll try another summer," he said.
The museum is mainly a hobby, he says.
"What I like most is seeing the reaction of people…. Some people think I’m a little crazy or queer, but I don’t mind."
Neither the school where he now teaches in Reykjavik, nor the parents of his pupils have criticised his endeavour.
Some scientists come to inspect the collection.
It is also popular with groups of women. On a recent Saturday afternoon two Icelandic youths were looking round, followed by a party of Hawaiian tourists.
"Foreigners come more out of curiosity, because this is unique in the world," Hjartarson said. "But what I’m trying to do is to present a serious collection, like any other collection."
Hjartarson, a specialist in Latin American history, has led an eventful life, living in Scotland, Sweden, Spain and Mexico.
His wife of 40 years — they have four children and seven grandchildren — fully supports him in the project, he says.
The oldest exhibit dates from 1974 and is a tanned bull’s penis, traditionally used as a whip on Icelandic farms, where every bit of an animal was put to use.
The strangest is probably a horse penis, smoked in memory of one Jonas Halldorsson, who lived from 1853 to 1931, and was a well-known gourmet who enjoyed a bit of smoked horse penis now and then.
Traditional Icelandic delicacies range from putrefied shark to boiled sheep’s head, so a taste for smoked horse penis seems quite understandable.
Reuters km© 18/05/99 01-0