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The Nose

You Say "Potato" . . .

Posted 2/7/2001

On Jan. 18, a "severed adult human penis" was discovered outside a Canton convenience store. So stated a news release from the State of Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. And so stated The Sun in short pieces that ran the 19th and 20th. Despite numerous smirky e-mails from readers to Nose HQ seeking further investigation of this gruesome event, we opted for the dignity of silence, leaving the topic to the guffawing jocks on 98 Rock.

But then the Nose heard a new twist to the penis-in-the-parking-lot story. Numerous folks told us that what was found was not a real penis at all, but a a potato painstakingly fashioned to look like one (complete with veins) that had been "preserved" in pickle juice. The spud schlong was the handiwork of an elusive local artist who has long displayed hand-fashioned vegetable genitalia in Fells Point bars, garnering reactions ranging from riotous laughter to revulsion. This particular tuber was reeking and rotting, so the artiste tossed it out of his car during a Canton coffee stop (or so the story goes; the artist refused a request for an interview).

We were dismissive, figuring that if anyone could tell a severed penis from a doctored potato it was the State of Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But so pervasive did this tale become that we were forced to place a rather difficult call to the coroner's office. "Um, say, that, uh . . . penis they found in Canton," we stammered. "Any, uh, chance it's actually a potato?"

"Oh, that's a good one," said assistant state medical examiner Dr. Stephen Radentz. "I wish it was, as it would make my job easier. But this is a real one." The good doc went on to describe how he'd cut into the orphaned organ and even had microscopic sections made. In the too-much-information department, he added that the "smell and coloration" were consistent with that of a severed human penis.

One person surprised by this official confirmation is Laura Norris, co-owner of the Fells Point bar/musselry Bertha's, who knows the potato carver and has seen his handiwork. "They are incredibly realistic down to the placement of veins and the use of dyes," she says. "He uses a medical book. We were all joking that when the [authorities] did a DNA analysis [on the penis] they'd find it belonged to Mr. Potato Head. We had a lot of merriment over it. But if it's really real, that's awful."

Flesh or foodstuff? Bar gag or bodily mutilation? The Nose doesn't know which way to go on this, er, prickly issue.

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