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When collecting dolls for the Island of Dolls, Santana Barrera did not make any effort to clean them or to fix them up; once obtained he would hang them on the island’s trees.

Is the Island of Dolls Haunted? An Eerie Tribute to a Little Mexican Girl

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The Island of Dolls (known also as La Isla de las Muñecas in Spanish) is a chinampa in Mexico City, Mexico. As its name suggests, dolls are found throughout the island, placed there by its former owner, Julián Santana Barrera. This unusual, not to mention creepy, feature of the island has turned it into a tourist attraction.

The Island of Dolls is not a natural island, but an artificial one. It is a chinampa (sometimes referred to as a ‘floating island’), an agricultural innovation developed by the Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans in the Valley of Mexico. The Island of Dolls is located on the Teshuilo Lake, in the canals of Xochimilco, one of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City.

How Was the Island of Dolls Created?

The story of the Island of Dolls begins in the 1950s. At that time, there was a man by the name of Julián Santana Barrera, who decided to live his life as a recluse. He left his wife and family and moved to the island to live in solitude.

While on the island, Santana Barrera alleged that he was haunted by the ghost of a little girl who drowned in the nearby canal. He claimed to have heard the tormented cries of the girl and the sound of her footsteps in the night. Some believe that that a girl did drown in the canal and that Santana Barrera found her body but when he did it was too late and he forever was tormented by the fact that he couldn’t save her. But others are of the opinion that this incident never happened and that it was merely a figment of the hermit’s imagination.

Dolls seen from the lake at the Island of Dolls. (Amrithraj / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dolls seen from the lake at the Island of Dolls. (Amrithraj / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Regardless of what others thought, Santana Barrera decided to do something to appease the spirit of the girl. Some accounts claim that not long after the body of the girl was found, Santana Barrera saw a doll floating in the canal. The doll may have belonged to the girl and Santana Barrera took it as a sign from the girl’s spirit . He fished the doll out of the water and hung it on a tree as a sign of respect to the dead girl.

Why are there So Many Dolls on the Island of Dolls?

Santana Barrera did not stop there and continued to collect dolls for his island. The recluse collected dolls that were floating in the canals and looked for them in the rubbish heaps near his home. Moreover, he is said to have traded with locals. In exchange for their dolls, he gave them the agricultural produce he was growing on his island. Once the dolls were obtained, Santana Barrera would hang them on the island’s trees. A number of dolls were also kept in his cabin.

Santana Barrera displayed the dolls as he found them. He did not make any effort to clean them or to fix them up. Thus, many of the dolls are visibly damaged, some missing their heads, others a limb or two. Furthermore, exposure to the elements also caused the dolls to become disfigured over time. As a consequence, the dolls imparted a spooky aura to the island. Soon, stories were attached to these eerie dolls. For instance, some believe that the dolls were possessed by the spirits of small girls and that they come to life at night.

Some of the dolls from Santana Barrera's chinampa – the Island of Dolls in Mexico. Photo source: FlickreviewR / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Some of the dolls from Santana Barrera's chinampa – the Island of Dolls in Mexico. Photo source: FlickreviewR / CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Living on the Island of Dolls

Santana Barrera was not afraid of the dolls and even regarded them as his protectors. In time, the unusual island attracted attention, and Santana Barrera was glad to show curious visitors around the Island of Dolls. Santana Barrera died in 2001. According to some reports, he died of a heart attack. The more common claim, however, is that he drowned in the same area where he believed the little girl had died.

After Santana Barrera’s death, locals decided to maintain the Island of Dolls. The island has been featured in articles and television programs, making it famous. The Island of Dolls is a tourist attraction today and those who visit the island often leave their own dolls there, which, in a way, is a continuation of Santana Barrera’s work while he was still alive.

Today the Island of Dolls is a tourist attraction. (Emmanuel Eslava / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Today the Island of Dolls is a tourist attraction. (Emmanuel Eslava / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Top image: When collecting dolls for the Island of Dolls, Santana Barrera did not make any effort to clean them or to fix them up; once obtained he would hang them on the island’s trees. (Kevin / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

By Wu Mingren

References

Akbar, J. 2015. Enter Mexico's haunted 'Island of the Dolls' if you dare: Thousands of creepy toys hang from the trees to quell the tormented screams of a ghost of a little girl who drowned there. [Online] Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3185228/Enter-Mexico-s-haunted-Island-Dolls-dare-Thousands-creepy-toys-hang-trees-quell-tormented-screams-ghost-little-girl-drowned-there.html

Dylan. 2019. La Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls). [Online] Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/la-isla-de-las-munecas

Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Mexico. 2019. Isla de las Munecas - The Island of the Dolls. [Online] Available at: http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/

Kaushik. 2011. Island Of The Dolls: Mexico’s Creepiest Place. [Online] Available at: https://www.amusingplanet.com/2011/04/island-of-dolls-mexicos-creepiest.html

Mysterious Facts. 2018. Island of Dolls in Mexico. [Online] Available at: https://mysteriousfacts.com/island-of-dolls-in-mexico/

Westmass, R. 2018. The Island of the Dolls Has a Murky and Terrifying History. [Online] Available at: https://curiosity.com/topics/the-island-of-the-dolls-has-a-murky-and-terrifying-history-curiosity/

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