Island of the Dolls: The Creepiest Tourist Destination
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Just south of Mexico City, in the middle of the Xochimilco canals, is an island like no other. The island has thousands of inhabitants, but they are not what you expect. Scattered all over the island are dolls left broken, decayed, and mutilated, giving the place an undeniable eerie feeling. Despite its unnerving atmosphere, “The Island of the Dolls” or La Isla de las Muñecas remains one of the main tourist attractions in Mexico City.
What is the True Story Behind the Island of the Dolls?
A lot of stories have been going around trying to explain the story behind the dolls. But here’s the truth about the island: it is the work of a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera. Sometime in the mid-20th century, he decided to leave his wife and children to isolate himself on an island on Teshuilo Lake which is one of the lakes within Xochimilco. Not long after moving into the island, Don Julian found the dead body of a young girl in the lake. A short time later, a doll came floating down the canal. To appease the spirit of the young girl, Don Julian hung the doll from a tree.
Don Julian continued to collect dolls, including baby dolls, Barbies, porcelain dolls, and mannequins. He gathered them by searching rubbish heaps near his home. To obtain more dolls, he also traded agricultural produce with the locals. For the next 50 years, Don Julian would decorate the whole island with dolls, hanging them on trees, outside his cabin, and even inside his home. For unknown reasons, he hung some of the dolls in various states of disrepair (headless, limbs removed, or torso-less).
Exploring the Reasons Why Don Julian Santana Barrera Collected Dolls
For decades, Don Julian managed to collect and hang at least 1,500 dolls. There have been a few speculations trying to explain Don Julian’s dedication, including:
1. Appeasing the spirits – While it started with the death of a young girl, many people believe that he had to continue the doll hanging to appease more spirits. After hanging the first doll, Don Julian began to hear footsteps and anguished wails. Driven by fear, he hung dolls in belief that the spirits of dead girls possessed the dolls.
2. Dolls as guardians – In connection with the first speculation, some people believe that Don Julian hung dolls to serve as guardians of the island.
3. As a shrine dedicated to the young girl – Others believe that Don Julian transformed the whole island to serve as a shrine dedicated to the lost soul.
4. Insanity – Most people believe that Don Julian was not necessarily of sound mind and that the story about the young girl is nothing but a figment of his imagination. Up until this day, it is unknown whether or not a young girl did drown in the lake.
Becoming a Tourist Destination
The island generated buzz after Mexican filmmaker Emilio Fernández chose the island as the shooting location of Maria Candelaria in 1943, turning the island as a tourist destination. In 1987, the area was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, further expanding tourism activities in the area. Don Julian accepted the visitors for a small fee, and he gladly showed them around the island until his death.
The Death of the Doll Collector
In 2001, Don Julian’s body was found by his nephew. A lot of people believe that just like the young girl, Don Julian drowned in the lake. However, according to some reports, he died of a heart attack.
After Don Julian’s death, locals and his family decided to maintain the Island of the Dolls. Tourists also bring more dolls to continue Don Julian’s lifelong work of transforming the island.
Visiting the Mysterious Island
The Island of the Dolls is about 28km south of the center of Mexico City. Visitors have to take a trajinera from the Embarcedero Cuemanco or Embarcadero Fernando Celada, and the trip would take at least 2 hours. However, not all rowers are willing to transport people to the island due to superstitions. But there are still a lot of tour boats you can catch, just ask around.
On your way to the island, you’ll get to enjoy lush greenery and beautiful singing birds. But as you near the island, your boat will be slowed down by a swarm of lily pads. The sound of the singing birds will also be replaced by an ominous silence. It will be up to you whether or not you’ll dare take a step on the sinister island.
Is the Island of the Dolls Haunted?
The dolls are meant to protect the island from troubled spirits, but some visitors claim that the island remains haunted. Aside from the heavy atmosphere on the island, tourists often feel eyes watching their every move. There are also claims that they would see the dolls move their limbs or hear voices that seem to come from the dolls. To prevent the spirits from coming home with them, visitors leave coins and trinkets at the doll shrines to appease the spirits.
Visitors of the Island of the Dolls have different stories to tell. Some believe it is haunted, while others claim that it is easy to imagine hauntings due to the island’s ominous aura. But we also want to hear your opinion. Do you think that the Island of the Dolls is haunted?
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