Iceland’s penis museum: size does matter

For many people who travel to Iceland, their must-do list probably includes climbing the menacing Hekla or Eyjafjallajokull volcanos, or perhaps swimming in the geo-thermally heated Blue Lagoon, or even a drive to see the geyser at Geysir blast water three metres into the air.

But how many people take photos of themselves on a stop at the bizarre but popular Iceland Phallological Museum in Rejkyavik?

Quite a lot, as I recently discovered on my own visit to the world’s largest display of penises and related equipment. In fact, there was a lineup to get in to the museum, on Laugavegeur 116.

Now before you read on, you need to know that while the rest of my family was excited about coming to Iceland to hike and to experience the rugged landscapes under the midnight sun, I was not. Indeed, the only thing that sparked any interest for me in this voyage had been the anticipation of seeing this quirky museum for myself. For weeks before the trip, I told people about my plan, and was greeted with catcalls and eye-rolls from my family.

Our rental flat in Reykjavik was two blocks away from the museum, and I spotted it the first day we arrived. We had to pass it every time we walked into the main shopping area of town. But for the first few days, I couldn’t interest anyone to come with me. My two teenaged boys and husband couldn’t understand my keen interest in the whole subject.

“Because we have our own,” became the standard joke.

Then one rainy morning that week, after we’d done a volcano hike, and the Blue Lagoon, and seen Geysir, my husband agreed to accompany me and we set out to cross the museum off my bucket list.

The museum opens at 10 a.m. and it was already crowded when we got there. We joined the line behind a group of Italian tourists, paid the $10 each in cash, each, turned the corner and came face to face with the biggest penis I had ever seen.

It belongs to a long dead whale, and it demands your attention as it stands there upright in a glass case, in some kind of preservative liquid. As you can see it is way taller then me.

Nearly 300 specimens line the walls and shelves of the four rooms, from whales, polar bears,  seals and smaller land mammals, all collected over the decades by the original founder, Sigurður Hjartarson. The museum is now curated by his son. 

Seeing such a big specimen came as a shock, and then the visit  just got worse as I passed by each subsequent jar.

My nausea began to grow. I felt cold and clammy. Sure it is supposed be scientific, and there are cards displays and materials explaining each genus and species.

The human penis is on the far right

But there are some humorous artifacts, such as penis-shaped rocks, and sculptures, and toys.

Walk by the case and this toy flashes you

But when I saw the lampshades made out of bulls testicles, I thought I was going to throw up. And by the time I reached the piece de resistance in the last room — the grayish, hairy specimen floating in a jar donated by a deceased 95 year old Icelander, Pall Arason, I know my face looked just as gray.

Pall Arason’s penis

For his part, it appears that my husband was actually enjoying the visit. I, on the other hand, wanted to get out as soon as I could, even though I was the one who had wanted to see the museum in the first place. Strange, no? You would think that a woman who has changed diapers for two sons, three nephews, and has been married for 16 years, might have been more matter-of-fact about seeing a penis or two.

I still don’t know why I had such a strong reaction; it might have been the way the penises were ghostly white or cream coloured, or yellowing, just floating there, in their specimen jars. Or it might have been some of the penis-themed products, such as the tie made from scrotum skin of a whale.

Tie and scarf made of animal scrotum skin

Or maybe it was the life-sized plastic cast which some American man had made of his penis (he calls it ELMO) which he has pledged to donate to the museum when he dies — the legal documents he signed are on the wall, too.

Life sized casting of American would be donor’s penis nicknamed Elmo

I wonder if visitors would have the same reaction in a vagina museum.  But wait. There isn’t one. Hmmm.
And would anyone really wear earrings like these?

Penis bone earrings from an Alaskan Marten

Since we have come home, when people ask us how the trip was, my husband raves about his hikes and about how Iceland uses geothermal energy to heat homes and businesses. But my favourite reactions are when I pull out my cell phone and show people the penis museum photos. Like what happened at dinner last night with friends:  one woman who has surely seen more penises then I have, (she is a family doctor) took one look and her eyes nearlly popped out of her head. And she started laughing.

Bottom line: should you go to see the museum if you are in Iceland? Yes. Make sure to take some Gravol with you, just in case.

P.S. I have just learned that two Canadians created a documentary, shown at the 2012 Hot Docs festival in Toronto called “The Final Member”, about the museum’s quest to obtain a human penis.

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