“Where in the world is Napoleon’s penis?” seems like a trick question, along the same lines of “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” But it’s not a riddle. As far as we know, Napoleon’s penis is in New Jersey, while Napoleon himself rests in Paris.
Napoleon died on this day in 1821, likely of stomach cancer, and was originally buried on the island of his exile, St. Helena. At least, most of him was. During the autopsy, the doctor allegedly decided to take Napoleon’s penis, presumably as a bizarre souvenir. The doctor gave it to a priest for safekeeping, and the priest smuggled the part to Corsica. After that, Little Napoleon was passed down as sort of a perverse family heirloom for decades.
In 1924, an American rare books dealer bought the collectible, and allowed it to be displayed at New York’s Museum of French Art. One newspaper reviewed the exhibit and declared that it resembled “a shriveled eel.” Time said it was like a “maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace.” Charming.
The object passed hands a few more times throughout the decades, then was purchased for $3,000 in 1977 by John Lattimer, professor emeritus and former chairman of urology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Lattimer was an interesting fellow himself, collecting morbid curiosities such as the blood-stained collar Lincoln was wearing the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater and the glass capsule that contained the cyanide Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring took to commit suicide.
When Lattimer passed away in 2007, he left the organ to his daughter, Evan. “Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke,” she has said, and has thus far followed her father’s example of not exhibiting the Little Corporal.
Of course, it may not even be Napoleon’s. The French Government has apparently never accepted it as such, but thanks to an X-ray taken by Dr. Lattimer, we do know this much: It’s definitely someone’s penis.