Beyond the Atlantic Ocean and precisely in Mexico City, there is a place that is decidedly creepy, recently become famous among the explorers of the unknown and the macabre, for the hundreds of dolls hanging from the branches of its trees. This is the Isla de las Muñecas, litterally, the Island of the Dolls.
It is so named because of the presence of numerous dolls decidedly “unusual”: they are hanged to any tree, fence or vertical surface of the place and watching threateningly anyone approaching!
It is an artificial island (in Spanish chinampa), created on a shallow area of Xochimilco Lake, about 28 kilometers south of Mexico City, in the period before Spanish rule, in order to increase agricultural production. Once it was a sort of lush floating garden, not unique in the lake, which precisely because of these chinampas went to shrink over time, to form the existing canal system.
Currently these numerous artificial islands are in a state of neglect, which makes them even more terrifying and evocative in the eyes of horror lovers.
However, of course, the Island with the dolls hanged is the most creepy. They were gradually hung across the island by a strange character, Don Julian Santana Barrera, a man who in 1950 went to live there after building himself a hut. He became a sort of “guardian of the island”, and he was impressed by a sad affair that happened in the murky waters that lapped the place: three little girls were playing in the waves, when one of them drowned.
One day found on the shore of the beach the child’s body and the poor man was upset because he could not do anything to save her.
The next day, he found a floating doll not far from where he had found the girl, he imagined it belonged her, so he decided to hang it on the tree near her resting place, as a sign of respect.
But the child’s spirit was restless, it did not belong to that place and began to torment Don Julian.
The child’s death became an obsession for him, his most recurrent nightmare, so he began collecting a myriad of dolls imagining giving them to the tragically lost young girl, so that she could play again and to keep her quiet. He moved away from his island just to rummage in the trash, looking for other gifts for the child’s spirit.
He also found one doll that reminded him so much of the little girl, that he decided to keep her at home, and he called her Agustinita.
According to the story, the island became a kind of sanctuary dedicated to her and soon he realized that the child’s spirit had taken possession of the dolls themselves.
Don Julian even managed to squander his wealth, to buy as many dolls as he could: dolls that he personally cared for like children, talking and singing for them.
The inhabitants of the surrounding islands began to notice something strange, so they asked Don Julian if they could visit the island. He consented without problems, so the visitors brought him other dolls as a tribute to thank him for his kindness, or as a barter for fruit and vegetables grown on the island.
It is said that Don Julian, at the height of his pain and madness, has begun to cultivate the earth in order to feed his dolls and who says that he was led by a strange force that changed him profoundly!
Legend has it that those dolls, at night, come alive to protect the island and its guardian.
Don Julian was found dead in 2001, drowned in the same lake where the child was found many years before.
Another version of the story states that one day Don Julian went fishing with his nephew, Anastasio Santana Velasco, who reported that his uncle felt continually called by someone. At first he did not notice, but then he found his body lifeless, drowned in the same spot where he said he saw the little girl die.
The few inhabitants of the area are said to be convinced that the ghost of man, whose dolls were left hung on the trees, still joyful today on the island.
Even some scholars and experts documented, with some surprising shots, paranormal episodes occurred in this place: strange sounds, noises and blows that in the night came from the roof or the vicinity of the hut where Don Julian lived and above all it occurred that one of the hanged dolls, opened the eyes spontaneously, if asked to do it.
Today, there are also visitors who go on a pilgrimage to the Island not only to explore, but leave offerings and ask for blessings and miracles to the spirit of the child, which has become a sort of deity to be invoked in case of need.
The decidedly mysterious aura that surrounds it, continues to attract on the Island of Dolls hundreds of people every year from all over the world.
It is said that director Tim Burton also wanted to see the place in person looking for some new inspiration in 2012, when he was in Mexico for the promotion of his animated film “Frankenweenie”.
It is not particularly easy to reach the island. The best choice is to rent a car or take a taxi in the direction of Cuemanco in the Xochilmico reserve area. Next you need to take a ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or from Embarcadero Fernando Celada.
If you take a trajinera (typical local boat) the journey should not take more than two hours. Boats do not usually include a stop on the island on their itinerary, so it will be necessary to specifically ask the driver to stop there…