“It’s mainly Americans who are squeamish about this,” Hjartarson says over the phone from his home in Iceland. “Maybe at first people were astonished and thought that I was queer or something was wrong with me—but on the whole, it has been pretty successful and the reaction has been good.” Sure, he may be “a wee bit eccentric or whatever” (his words), but his family and the people around him have always been onboard with the collection. In fact, it was his wife, to whom he’s been married for more than fifty years, who suggested he open a museum in the first place. In 1997, twenty-three years after a teacher gave Hjartarson, then headmaster, a bull’s penis cattle whip as a joke, the Icelandic Phallological Museum opened its doors.
But among the hundreds of organs floating in formaldehyde jars and jutting out from wooden mounts on the walls, one specimen was always clearly missing from Hjartarson’s collection: a human penis.