Sunday, June 28, 2009

Well, that was awkward for us all.

Not only is the title going to be the name of the tell-all autobiography by one of the Amateur Historian's friends, it is also the story of a rather, er... delicate matter concerning an august member (har har) of French history.

When Napoleon died on St. Helena, the Romantic period was in full swing, and with it, the resurgance of the medeval idea of carrying around saints' relics... with one noticable difference. Instead of saints, your average Romantic collected objects and organs of famous writers, artists and other Great Men. Keats went into a swoon over Milton's hair and Mary Shelley traveled around with her husband's powdered heart. It thus comes as no surprise that after Napoleon's death, Vignali, the priest who had given the former Emperor his last rights wanted a keepsake. Instead of cutting off a lock of hair, the priest decided he wanted Napoleon's penis.

Apparently, either after or during the autopsy, Vignali and his valet found themselves alone with Napoleon's corpse and did some very delicate anatomical restructuring. Vignali also inherited a number of Napoleon's personal effects (though the Amateur Historian respectfully doubts that Napoleon ever meant for Vignali's Napoleona to be that personal) and the lot of it was auctioned off in 1916. The collection was continually sold off but, in 1961, failed to sell. This lead to the amusing tabloid headline, "NOT TONIGHT JOSEPHINE" and a considerable blow to the pride of the owners of the collection. Said owner apparently spent eight years recovering fromt he indignity of not being able to sell Napoleon's penis and put said object on the auction block at Christie's in 1977. It sold for $3,000 to John K. Lattimer, professor emeritus and former chairman of urology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He then took it to his home in New Jersey and stored it under his bed for the next thirty years.

It is not entirey clear whether or not it actually is Napoleon's penis or not; Professor Lattimer seems to think it is, and since he's a urologist, the Amateur Historian assumes he is familiar with his, er... subject and, frankly, does not want to personally investigate.


  1. Napoleon was very anxious to appear dignified in public at all times, I think. I am sure that he would not be pleased!

  2. I suddenly remember reading about this as a girl of 11 and being weirded out. As I recall Napoleon was not the only famous personage to be subjected to such treatment.

  3. Viola: Ha, I very much doubt he'd be happy about that.

    Danielle: Alas, no. There's actually a book out about weird things that happen to celebrities once they've died. I forget the name of it, but it's fairly recent....