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By Jennifer Knoll
Reykjavik - From geysers to glaciers, Iceland is blessed with innumerable natural wonders.
But one Icelander has chosen to ignore his country's impressive geology and focus on the more obscure phallology - the study of the penis - the Icelandic mammal penis in this case.
Down an alley off Reykjavik's main shopping street, travellers will find an odd example of one man's life work, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, more commonly referred to as the penis museum.
Sigurdur Hjartarson, a high school history teacher, erected the museum in 1997, after collecting dozens of penises from the various mammals of his homeland.
Hjartarson gladly bestows on visitors penile pearls of wisdom acquired during his quest to acquire a complete collection.
"I have a bone from a hamster, it's less than two millimeters," he said. "Every species has a different shape and form and that should make it interesting."
In addition to the hamster organ, the display includes penises from skunks, rams, dolphins, and horses as well as an impossible-to-miss penis from a killer whale, which in its flaccid state measures six feet (2 metres) long.
It immediately becomes clear that there is much guests can learn about the penis from Hjartarson: many have bones, some have threads running through them and others are full of oil. But the friendly Icelander says the most common question posed to him by visitors is a simple one: "Why do you do it?"
"Somebody has to and I just had the fate of having to start it," he said.
Hjartarson, however, enjoys more than the just educating people on the male anatomy.
"Some people don't know how to react to something like this. They think I am queer or pervert. I like that, not letting people know whether I am joking or a serious collector, which I certainly am."
Hjartarson says a penis cannot maintain its form without proper care.
After more than a quarter of a century of trial and error, Hjartarson has developed multiple methods for preserving his samples. Tapping on a stiff baby whale penis, Hjartarson reveals some of his techniques.
"I put some in formaldehyde. Others I have dried, emptied, with salt," he said. "I try different methods, better than if all were kept the same way."
His various methods have made for an interesting exhibit. Tanned penises dangle from rope, dried penises are hung like trophies on the wall, while pickled penises adorn shelves and fill large specially designed Lucite cases.
For visitors' viewing pleasure, many of the items are displayed under the light of ram testicle lamps created by Hjartarson.
The Phallological Museum boasts a nearly complete collection of 143 penises from 41 Icelandic mammals. But the collection is still missing two samples according to Hjartarson.
One is the penis of a small whale. The other is that of a man.
"I have three letters of donation" from men, Hjartarson says, pointing to a wall which contains photos and legally binding commitment letters from an Icelander, a German and a Briton. The Briton also sent a mold of his penis to be displayed until his own appendage arrives.
But because the museum's mandate is to display Icelandic mammals, only the Icelander's penis will find a place in the main exhibit.
The Icelandic donor has requested that he be preserved with "dignity".
"The donors and the doctors are in agreement, it must be taken while the body is warm. Then bleed it and pump it up. If it cools you can't do anything, so he is eager to have it taken warm and treated to be preserved with dignity," explains Hjartarson.
Each penis seems to come with a story, but like every good teacher Hjartarson is careful not to pick favorites. "You know mothers don't differentiate between their kids," he explains.