Lying in Xochimilco, in Mexico City, Mexico, is one of the most unnerving places you’ll ever find. Isla de las Muenecas, Island of the Dolls in English, is one of several man-made islands built by the Aztecs as floating gardens when they constructed the canal system that makes up Xochimilco. The island is festooned with around 1,500 dolls hanging from the trees and in a hut, quietly rotting as they stare off into the middle distance.
The reason behind the dolls is rather tragic; approximately 50 years ago, farmer Don Julian Santana, who owned the island, witnessed a young girl drowning in the canals. He was unable to save her and remained traumatised by her death. Shortly after, Don Julian saw a doll floating by in the canal. He fished it out and hung it up on a tree to appease the spirit of the girl whom he believed to now haunt the island. But one doll was not enough. Don Julian began hanging up every doll he saw in the canal. Eventually he began hunting rubbish dumps for dolls on his rare trips off the island, later selling his homegrown fruit and vegetables in order to buy dolls.
As well as hanging up the dolls, Don Julian would also play guitar and sing to the mermaids he believed he saw in the canals. Interestingly, the canals have an association with ancient supernatural beings. Xochimilco is also haunted by La Llorona, a woman who killed her children for the sake of the man she loved. However, he spurned her, and she committed suicide by drowning herself in the canals. On misty days, La Lorona is said to walk the islands calling out for the children she murdered.
As for Don Julian, some thought he was mad, that he believed the dolls he hung up were children who had to be saved from the canals. But those who knew him, his close friends and family said that this wasn’t the case. He knew that the dolls were just dolls and he simply wanted to make the little girl who drowned happy in the afterlife. Some people even questioned the existence of the girl herself, arguing that Don Julian had just made up the story as a result of the solitary life he led. Others say that the girl was killed by the supernatural beings haunting the canals.
|Esparta Palma/Wikimedia Commons|
When Don Julian died in 2001, some folk believed that these same spirits had pulled him into the canal and drowned him, as he was found dead in the water by his nephew. But what had actually happened was that Don Julian had died from a heart attack and fallen into the canal. During Don Julian’s life, the Isla de las Muenecas was relatively unnoticed. Now it is operated as a tourist attraction by Don Julian’s family, receiving up to 50 visitors a day. Several TV crews, including the Ghost Adventures team have also visited.
It takes a two hour trip along the canals to reach the island. Those meaning to pass it by say they feel compelled to visit. People have reported hearing the dolls whispering and claim that they move of their own accord. The dolls are believed to be possessed by the spirit of the drowned girl, or several spirits of children. Don Julian’s nephew now lives on the island and says you do get used to hearing the dolls’ whisperings…
For some reason, the island is portrayed as a negative place, but it is generally felt to be quite positive. The spirit of Don Julian himself is now also believed to haunt it.
The first doll Don Julian pulled from the canal is still there, now hanging up in a hut with what are said to be the most possessed dolls. It is now incredibly decomposed, but still stares blankly at the rest of it’s creepy brethren, no doubt thinking doll thoughts.
Further information can be found at http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/