BY: JESSICA BEUKER
South of Mexico City, between the canals of Xochimilco, you will find La Isla de las Munecas—otherwise known as the Island of the Dolls.
While thousands of people live in the area, the island itself is home to hundreds of decaying dolls. Hung from trees, strewn about the ground, stuck between wooden fence posts, and hanging from clotheslines like laundry, the dolls litter the island. Their eyes are now half-empty sockets, their skin is rotting, their severed limbs and decapitated heads are scattered about or impaled on stakes.
According to the island’s website, local legend is that a young girl was found drowned many years ago on the island and the dolls are possessed by her spirit. The dolls move their heads and arms and even open their eyes from time to time. Some witnesses have claimed to hear the dolls whispering to each other. Others say that they were lured to the island by the dolls while sailing past.
Don Julian Santana Barrera, who was the island’s caretaker, found a little girl drowning and was unable to save her life. Shortly after, Barrera found a doll floating near the canals and, assuming it belonged to the little girl, hung it to a tree as a sign of respect and support for her spirit.
Barrera felt haunted by her spirit and started hanging more and more dolls. He believed that the spirit of a dead girl possessed each new doll, and so he continued to collect and hang the dolls around the island. He collected the dolls from the trash and near the canals. Sometimes he traded the produce he had grown for more dolls. He never attempted to clean the dolls or fix them, but put them up in whatever state he found them. Barrera seemed very troubled that he couldn’t save the girl’s life.
After 50 years of collecting dolls and stringing them like Christmas ornaments all over the island, Barrera was found dead, according to the island’s website, drowned in the same spot where the girl’s body was allegedly found.
Some people question the girl’s existence altogether. Many have concluded Barrera made up the entire story due to his loneliness.
Since 2001, after Barrera’s death, the island has become a tourist attraction with visitors bringing more dolls to add to the collection. According to Vocativ, a trip to the Island of the Dolls takes two hours by boat and travels through quiet green pastures where birds and farm animals graze.
Over half of a century, Barrera collected more than 1,500 dolls. The oldest of the bunch hangs in a shed near the entrance of the island. Barrera’s cousin Anastasio now lives on the island and acts as caretaker. He told Vocativ that the dolls come alive in the nighttime. “They will move their heads and whisper to each other. It’s very spooky, but I have gotten used to it.”