There is, as you may know, a penis museum in Iceland. It is on the main strip of knitwear shops and places to have a $400 coffee with a $500 mayonnaise sandwich, you can’t miss it. It looks like the generic “sex museums” that seem mandatory in European tourist centers and consist mostly of vulgar etchings and ties that have boobs in the lining, plus one or two crude and upsetting wooden dildos from ye hornye tymes of olde.
Iceland’s museum sets itself apart from these generalized sex museums by being about dicks, strictly, yet it also casts a wide net by being about every kind of dick on earth: polar bear dicks, whale dicks, and frankly a few more seal and walrus dicks than seem necessary… all God’s peens are represented here. The museum apparently began when its founder was given a bull’s penis (“pizzle,” for the phallologists among us) to whip farm animals with during a stint in the country. As an adult, his colleagues heard about the bull dick thing and naturally started collecting whale penises to give him for a laugh. Eventually he had too many animal dicks lying around and had to start a museum, a situation we can all understand and have been in.
I have to tell you something about the dick museum now, and there’s going to be no getting around how it sounds. The situation exists and simply forms the joke, it’s not anyone’s fault, this is just how it is: In spite of its grand promises, the dick museum is disappointingly small. (I know, I know. I’m as sorry as anyone can be about something so independently ridiculous yet apt.) When you get right down to it, the Icelandic Phallological Museum really is just two mid-sized rooms full of pickled dicks.
Except for one area, and that is the area that we really need to discuss. I realize we have talked a lot about the museum as a concept, and I’m sorry, Sigurður Hjartarson was a fascinating man who devoted himself to collecting every kind of dick on the planet, and why not, find what you love and let it kill you, etc. But there is an area in the back corner of the museum containing a series of brief, polite letters from all over the world. Every single letter says the same thing in a slightly different way, and that thing is this: “When I die, you may have my penis and put it in your museum.”
Seeing these letters made me, straight up, so mad. I’m fairly sure I was demonstrably stewing around the Icelandic penis museum, huffing and shaking my head and scowling at the walls like a Muppet in a bad mood. It has been almost a year since I visited the museum, and honestly thinking about those letters still makes me a bit furious, for reasons I cannot fully grasp but will attempt to here.
As far as I can tell, the men who have valiantly offered up their dicks are not even really pretending to be interested in the concept of the museum, or the theoretical knowledge to be gained from the study of human anatomy. Every letter I read was essentially the written equivalent of a man gazing upon his phallus and thinking, full Indiana Jones voice: “This belongs in a museum.” And they were so sure of this that they all went and found a museum to formally bequeath their dicks to, writing about their act of generosity the way wealthy people donate Rembrandts to the Met. “This is how I feel about my penis—that it is beautiful and important and everyone who goes to Iceland should see it,” they thought. And then they wrote this all down and signed their full name to it, and, I guess, began the long wait for death, knowing it would happily bring with it the chance for their penis to live on in perpetuity.
There are currently four dicks in the running to become Iceland’s Next Top Display Penis, from four different countries. Tom Mitchell, an American, is the most excited donor, and is hopeful that he can have his penis—which he has named Elmo and considers a separate entity to the rest of his person—cut off during his lifetime, allowing him to visit his own dick on display in the museum. In 2012, he told a filmmaker that he wants Elmo to be “the most famous penis in the world.” Until he can get the actual appendage there, he’s sent along a cast and a few pics (for some reason in these images his dick is dressed up like Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln) (fine?), all in the hopes that his can be the “first true penis celebrity.” The other three dicks are from Germany, England, and another Icelander. They’ve been quieter about their motivations, but their letters express a similar interest in preserving their dicks into eternity.
The aspiration of having a famous cock, of knowing that tourists and schoolchildren of the future will be staring at your formaldehyde-preserved genitals, seems, I’m sorry, extremely male. It really feels as though the Venn diagram of “guys who made the effort to donate their dicks to the museum years if not decades before their deaths, probably before they completed their actual will and testament” and “Tinder guys who send a dick pic immediately” and “the specific guy in a luchador mask standing under a railway bridge jerking off at passing trains when I was 18 and on holiday alone in Germany” and “Anthony Weiner” is just a big, fat circle, in which someone has crudely scrawled “JUST LOOK AT OUR DICKS ALREADY, PLEASE, GOD!!!”
As I was sort of storming around the gift shop, dodging novelty erection wind-up toys, I tried to imagine myself (or indeed any woman) writing one of these letters:
Firstly, congratulations on your body parts collection. It is extensive and impressive, but obviously lacking something important, the lack of which I expect most visitors have noticed. “Where is Monica Heisey’s specific vagina, please?” they must be angrily writing on the comment cards. I am sure your Yelp page is a forest of two-star reviews, full of patrons crying out to see my particular vulva. And I get it. But don’t worry, sweet Sigurður. I am here now.
Now, when I die—please pay attention, the next part is vital—I want you to take my entire vulva and put it on display in your puss house. This is basically charity, what I’m doing. But it’s also important. It’s so, so important, actually. My labia really deserves to be seen by dozens if not hundreds of people every day, forever, in a jar on a fancy shelf with a little description underneath. Something like “Look at this amazing vag, really just… look at it. Isn’t it fucking perfect? My god.” I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here. Thank you for taking the time to accept my donation. This is my greatest wish, a wish that is about science and nothing else. I love knowledge, and this idea makes me wet in a normal way.
Congratulations, Sigurður. You did it. No, I did it.
Anyway. The museum costs $15 to visit and in a few years some of the men from the wall will die and their dicks will be in there.