The weirdest museum collections around the globe provide intriguing insight into a country’s predilections and preoccupations; there’s the Instant Noodle Museum in Yokohama, the Barbed Wire Museum in Kansas, Dog Collar Museum in Kent, Celebrity Lingerie Hall of Fame in Hollywood and the Museum of Toilets in New Delhi.
So it’s inevitable that Iceland, renowned for its spouting geysers and volcanic eruptions, plays host to the world’s only museum dedicated to penises.
That 60% of its 11,000 annual visitors is female surprises only for the fact that the gender skew isn’t much higher, given that my ticket appeared to include a complimentary speedball of awkward discomfort that, if I’m anything to go by, should see male visitors suffer on a Belushi-like scale.
It’s not just that there are over 200 species of appendages on offer, but that the first one taking pride of place on entry is a veritable assault to the senses.
Had I been invited in times past to view a blue whale’s penis in its prime, I suspect I would have politely declined. That my first (and by the grace of god, only) experience of the aforementioned member was slowly decomposing in formaldehyde – a blanched, mangled monster of a thing that resembled a giant turnip with a nasty case of psoriasis – will haunt me until my final breath.
Lurching past jar upon jar of tortured specimens floating in aspic was, well, jarring to say the least. (The good news for dieters though is that the whole experience is a terrific appetite suppressant)
Thank goodness then for the mood lifting effect of a glass case housing sculptures of 15 human penises immortalising Iceland’s victorious Beijing Olympic silver medal Handball Team in an artistic style I found reminiscent of wild mushrooms swaying side of stage at a Flaming Lips concert.
Unsurprisingly the museum has garnered international media attention, including a reportedly ‘side-splittingly funny’ Canadian documentary called The Final Member, which charts the museum’s quest to obtain its first human penis.
The founder Sigurdur Hjartarson has been on a mission to procure a human penis for years, saying that ‘without the human, the collection is not complete’. In 2011 his wish was granted by Pall Arason, a 95-year-old Icelandic man claiming to be an adventurer and ‘Iceland’s biggest ladies man’ who bequeathed him his posthumous penis. However things take a turn for the worse when Siggi fails to preserve Pall’s remains properly, rendering them ‘unflatteringly shrivelled pickled parts’.
Enter Tom Mitchell, a middle-aged Californian horse farmer who’s so keen to be the owner of the world’s first celebrity penis that he’s willing to amputate ‘Elmo’ while he’s still alive. Getting a tad carried away with what I like to refer to as his Pickle-Me-Elmo project, Mitchell goes on to get an American flag tattooed on its tip, commissions a fancy display case for it and seriously contemplates launching a comic book called The Amazing Adventures of Elmo, which features the penis in a cape (the cape bit being, to my mind, about the only predictable part of the proceedings thus far).
But that’s the kind of high weirdness and freakish devotion you’re bound to attract with a concept like a penis temple. For the more pedestrian of us who remain thoroughly bemused at best and otherwise vaguely traumatised, it’d probably make more sense if the museum called itself Phallo-Illogical.
As the Daily Beast website notes, Iceland is home to many celebrated and much loved wonders. Volcanic mountains. The Blue Lagoon. The best lamb on the planet. Musicians Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós. Four-time “World’s Strongest Man” winner Magnús Ver Magnússon and the evil ice hockey team in D2: The Mighty Ducks.
The Penis Museum, by contrast, would do well to keep it in its pants.