The Island of the Dolls: A Macabre Tribute to a Drowned Girl

Creepy dolls have permeated popular media for ages, but nowhere has it been quite concentrated and even popularized more than in La Isla de las Muñecas, a.k.a The Island of the Dolls.


It all began on a chinampa somewhere deep in the canals of Xochimilco, located south of Mexico City. These floating gardens preserve the final remnants of a distant, pre-Hispanic era. When the Spanish Conquistadors razed Tenochtitlan to the ground in 1521, many indigenous women and their children escaped to these canals to hide.

Sadly, many of them perished due to either drowning in the canals or taking their own lives rather than being caught by the foreign invaders.

Although the canals of Xochimilco are historically significant, the region absorbed the agony of those attempting to escape the destruction of their home. The once-clear waters to this day pulsate with an energy that many locals describe as extremely negative.

The First Doll

In the mid-twentieth century, however, a man named Julian Santana Barrera left his family to live in self-imposed isolation on an island on Teshuilo Lake. It was sometime after he had settled here when he discovered the body of a drowned girl at the water’s bottom. Soon after, he found the child’s doll floating nearby, and so he decided to hang it on a tree.

Many speculators wonder whether or not Barrera actually did find a girl’s body, and no one can say for sure what his motive was for hanging the doll on the tree. Some say he did it to honor the deceased girl’s memory; others say he did it to drive away the malevolent spirits that haunt the area.

Was the girl he found even real? Did he somehow imagine the whole thing? Or did he perhaps encounter one of the many spirits of the women and children who lost their lives desperately trying to escape the destruction of the once great Aztec empire?

An Obsessive Tribute to the Dead

Regardless of his motive, Barrera began collecting every doll he found and displaying them around his island. His obsession was fueled by the fact that he would hear wailing throughout the night. Despite living isolated deep within the maze of the ancient canal, he continued to hear footsteps around his chinampa as well as the disembodied voices of young girls. He dedicated himself to collecting as many dolls as needed to appease the spirits.

Although his original intention was to live the rest of his life as a recluse, his island of dolls began to attract the attention of the other residents around the region and, eventually, around the world. With this attention, Barrera acquired even more dolls to hang — some were given to him by visitors, others he bartered for from others.

Over the next 50 years, more and more dolls populated the island, and all were in various states of decay. Some were missing limbs; others were only limbs. Badly eroded dolls wearing badly mangled dresses occupied the exterior of Barrera’s shack. They crowded inside the shack; they lined the trees and hung on wires to occupy even more of the island. Thousands of dolls could easily be spotted from a distance. The sight of multitudes of soulless eyes and their small, decrepit bodies while spiders slowly crawled over them gave the island an air of being cursed.

The End?

In 2001, Barrera was found deceased by his nephew, Anastasio Velasco. Eerily enough, his body was supposedly found floating in the same place where he first found the girl’s body over half a century ago. Although Barrera’s life came to an end, his dedication to these dolls did not. Visitors from all over the world regularly come and visit the unique chinampa, leaving their own dolls to add to the population. Meanwhile, Barrera’s spirit lingers, keeping watch as the sound of his cane thumping while he stalks around the island can still be heard throughout the night.


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