The Island of the Dolls (Isla de las Munecas) sits in the canals south of Mexico City and is the current home of hundreds of terrifying, mutilated dolls. Their severed limbs, decapitated heads, and blank eyes adorn trees, fences and nearly every available surface. The dolls appear menacing even in the bright light of midday, but in the dark they are particularly haunting.
Not surprisingly, the island’s origins lie in tragedy. The story goes that the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, found the body of a drowned child in the canal some 50 years ago. He was haunted by her death, so when he saw a doll floating by in the canal soon after, he hung it in a tree to please the girl. He hoped to both appease her tortured soul and protect the island from further evil.
One doll in a tree, however, was not enough to ease Santana’s troubled mind. He continued to fish dolls and doll parts out of the canal whenever he saw them, hanging each one carefully on the island. There weren’t enough canal dolls to satisfy Santana’s tortured spirit, so he began scavenging more from trash heaps on his rare trips away from home. Later in life, he began trading his home-grown fruits and vegetables for dolls.
Many stories have been associated with the island over the years. A popular tale was that Don Julian had gone mad and believed the dolls to be real children who he pulled from the canal and tried to revive. But the truth, as told by his family members who now run the island as a tourist attraction, is that Don Julian simply believed the island was haunted by the spirit of the little girl. For reasons only known to Don Julian himself, he believed that he could make the dead girl happy and keep evil at bay by hanging discarded dolls in all of the island’s trees.
The story took a particularly sinister turn in 2001 when Don Julian drowned in the canal just like the little girl. Many people said that the dolls, inhabited by tortured spirits, conspired to murder the old man. Others believe that Santana’s death was an accident and that since his passing, the dolls have taken over his role as the island’s caretaker.
Getting to the island is a long and difficult task, but walking among the creepy dolls is an experience like no other. Most, if not all, of these dolls were rejected by their previous owners for various reasons. Severed limbs and body-less heads hang side-by-side with whole, sun-bleached dolls. Mold covers some, while others are missing nearly all of their artificial hair. Spiders and insects have taken up residence in the hollow parts of most of the dolls.
Although Don Julian’s sentiment was innocent and admirable, the doll graveyard he created is undeniably creepy. Soulless eyes follow visitors as they move around the small island (which is actually a chinampa, or artificial floating garden), and many swear that they can hear the dolls whispering to them. This labor of love (or fear, as it were) has resulted in an accidental sensation amongst those who admire the bizarre and twisted side of tourism.