“This grotesque playground of mutilated dolls is nothing short of a nightmare. Legends abound about the dolls coming alive each night, consumed with the soul of the drowned girl.“
Halloween is just a couple of days away, which gives me good reason to cover something dark, mysterious and macabre. A lot has been written about haunted locations across the world, some locations have literally been milked dry. Which leaves little room for wonder, let alone horror. For some bizarre reason, wandering spirits seem to have an uncanny affinity for toys … especially dolls, much like the famed Annabelle “Raggedy Ann” Doll or Robert “The Haunted Doll”. Not to mention agathokakological horror freaks that love movies like Chucky (yeah … the possessed “serial killer” doll).
Several well documented hauntings suggest – one doll is enough to scare the living daylights out of the unfortunate humans that chanced to inhabited their space, or the other way around. Now imagine not one but thousands of creepy dolls. Dolls of every size, colour, and shape. Mutilated dolls. Bloody dolls. Decapitated dolls. Carcasses of innocent dolls that once belonged to little girls, somewhere in distant time. Imagine an island of corpses. Doll corpses. But none the less as creepy as the site of a mass human massacre. As if executed for the unspeakable crimes of bringing smiles to little girls’ lips.
Zoom in to coordinates 19.2902° N, 99.0965° W and we get to la Isla de las Muñecas or the Island of the Dead Dolls, which lies south of the centre of Mexico City, in the channels of Xochimilco. This is probably the last place on earth that anyone would expect to be a tourist destination. There is a sizeable population nearby, however, this small, desolate island is home to thousands of terrifying dolls. The island has an uncanny resemblance to a mass execution site. The dolls with their severed limbs, decapitated heads and deep piercing eyes seem to penetrate the souls of visitors, leaving them with an eerie feeling of being watched.
The legend goes that sometime in the mid-20th century a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera, a native of Xochimilco, a borough of Mexico City, abandoned his family and moved to sequester himself on a desolate island on Teshuilo Lake. The reason for him doing so is unclear, some say he was fed up of life and preferred to live in isolation, while locals claim he was of unsound mind. Whatever the case, one day he made a chilling discovery. On the shore he found the body of a young girl, apparently a victim of drowning. He buried her on the island. A few days later a doll came floating by, and this changed the course of Barrera’s life and the reputation of the island forever. Believing the doll to be the mortal possession of the dead girl he took it and hung it from a tree.
Soon he started experiencing unusual occurrences on the island. There were strange scratching noises from the woods, disembodied voices, screams and disturbing sobs of a young girl that continued through the night. Barrera believed that this was the result of the restless wandering spirit of the drowned girl whose life had been cut short by her untimely demise. To appease her restless soul and to retain his sanity he began collecting dolls and hanging them across the island. He would collect every doll he could find, even headless dolls and dolls with missing body parts.
Don Julian devoted the rest of his days to this purpose. He lived a loner, continuing to collect dolls for nearly 50 years, turning the island into a mass graveyard for dolls. This doesn’t sound much like a person who has a sane mind or a grip on reality. His own family was sceptical when he claimed to have found the body of the drowned girl. However, he continued this way, until his death.
Barrera passed away in 2001. To add mystery to the already twisted tale, his body was found at the exact same spot he once claimed to have found the drowned girl’s body. He had drowned to death too. Today it is a popular, though macabre tourist spot, where curious travelers come to pay tribute to the little girl and Barrera. Visitors bring offerings of dolls, rosaries, and coins and offer them inside a dilapidated hut on the island which unofficially serves as a creepy doll museum as well as a shrine.
This grotesque playground of mutilated dolls is nothing short of a nightmare. Legends abound about the dolls coming alive each night, consumed with the soul of the drowned girl. Some visitors claim the dolls continue to appear in the mind’s eye and haunt their dreams long after returning to the safe confines of their homes. After all the sight of dolls hanging from nooses, nailed to tree trunks, heads pierced with spikes or eyes gorged out, isn’t a pleasing sight or one that could be easily forgotten. It’s no wonder that horror movie producers have been inspired by the story and movies based on the legend like Island of the Dolls (2018) & La isla de las Muñecas (2021) have been created.
Whether the legend of the Island of Dolls is true or not is up to us to believe or dismiss. However, what is sure is that the story of a life brutally cut short is tragic nonetheless, and when tragedy meets wandering souls, with unfinished business, we have the perfect recipe for a haunting.
Article (C) 2021 S. B. Ryder
For permissions click here.