Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons/Google Art Project
New Jersey is completely and totally weird – this is a fact. This is not the elitist opinion of a New Yorker or a generalized, overarching statement, but rather it is a verifiable truth, time-tested, celebrated, and even catalogued in the Weird New Jersey magazines and books.
All joking aside, from mysterious apparitions by the side of the road to the infamous Jersey Devil, it seems that New Jersey is full of strange and delightful goodies for us to pursue and admire. In particular, there is one small object with a lengthy history, an iconic piece that has made its way around half of the world before settling in the Garden State. I am talking, of course, about Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis.
After his game-changing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to the British island of St. Helena, where it is now believed that he was ultimately poisoned with arsenic. The fact that his captors ended his life prematurely seems pretty heinous in and of itself, but wait–there’s more.
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 object, 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.
Napoleon’s business remains with the Lattimer family to this day, where it is kept in a beautiful monogrammed box….in a closet. Just like he would have wanted!
Thank goodness this epic story also comes in the form of an ENTIRE BOOK!!! Which I haven’t read yet, but I absolutely plan on it. I’m going to blindly suggest that everyone read Tony Perrottet’s Napoleon’s Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped.
Additionally, you can view this clip in which Perrottet visits the relic in New Jersey. Unfortunately, out of respect for Dr. Lattimer’s wishes, they were not allowed to film the penis. However, they do offer a melodramatic artist’s recreation, which makes watching the otherwise relatively dull video totally worth it.
Get in touch with the author @MlleFauxFrench.