“Whenever anyone tells me that history’s boring, I bring up Napoleon’s penis.”
The title quote comes from genital historian Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon’s Privates.
Here’s the long and the short of it (but mostly the short):
It seems that Napoleon’s doctor removed his penis during the autopsy, and then gave it to a priest, Vignali, who then smuggled it to Corsica. Wisely recognizing the value of such an objet, the priest’s family passed it along until 1916, when a British collector got a hold of it, along with other pieces in the so-called “Vignali Collection.”
We might say that Napoleon’s penis was under-appreciated. Having only been displayed once (New York, 1927), it was ultimately mocked for its small size and referred to by curious spectators as a small piece of leather or a shriveled eel. The penis was gradually separated from other artifacts in the Collection, leaving it to fend for itself. One of my favorite incidents occurred in 1969, in which London’s famed auction house, Christie’s, failed to make the sale, thus inspiring one newspaper to write, “Not tonight, Josephine!”
In 1977, the penis found itself on the auction block once again, where it was eagerly snatched up by America’s leading urologist, Dr. John Lattimer. Lattimer, a resident of New Jersey, was appalled by the mockery surrounding the object. Determined to see it removed from circulation, he kept it from public scrutiny by hiding it in his home, thus elevating it to a position of respect and giving it the proper esteem that it so clearly deserved.
The tiny keepsake now sits in an attic in Englewood, New Jersey. Fist pump, anyone? Anyone?
Perrottet captured his visit to the Englewood attic on video, but Dr. Lattimer’s daughter wouldn’t allow him to film Napoleon’s shame. We do get a description though:
The object of all my dreams…Wow! It’s heavier than I thought…I guess that’s what happens to flesh, I guess none of us are gonna look too good after 185 years.