January 24, 2024 | Sarah Ng

The Island Of The Dolls Has A Terrifying History


Welcome To The Island Of The Dolls  

Located south of the center of Mexico City, The Island of the Dolls is a thriving tourist attraction—but it has an incredibly twisted backstory.

This eerie island has piqued the interests of tourists for its chilling assortment of dolls that hang from trees, and each of those dolls has its own unique story to tell.

island of the dolls

Where Is It?

The Island of the Dolls, or “Isla de las Muñecas" in Spanish is located on the Teshuilo Lake, which is part of the Xochimilco canal system in Mexico City.

The island began as chinampa, which is an artificial floating garden that dates back all the way to the Aztec empire. Because of the historical significance of the site, Xochimilco was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But it’s not the historical roots that keep people coming to this spooky island.

Creepy dollWikimedia Commons

The Hermit

The legend of the Island of the Dolls begins with a hermit named Don Julián Santana Barrera. Don Julián was born in 1921 and moved to the island in the 1950s. He would remain there until his passing in 2001.

According to the story, when Don Julián moved to the island, it was home to an abundance of animals, but completely devoid of human life.

The day that Don Julián found another person there was the day the legend of the dolls was born.

Shrine to Don JulianPx-lga, Wikimedia Commons

An Awful Legend

Legend has it that one day, Don Julián stumbled across the body of a young girl. Tragically, the girl had drowned after getting caught in the canal’s water lilies. Soon after, Julián began experiencing supernatural occurrences.

Tourist with broken dollsRevistaenigmas-1995, Wikimedia Commons

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Hearing Things

Shortly after finding the little girl Don Julián claimed that he could hear her screaming, “I want my doll".

Even more terrifying? In the assumed location of her demise, he discovered an actual doll. As an offering to her distraught spirit, he strung it up in a tree.

But the disturbances kept coming.

Creepy DollsPx-lga, Wikimedia Commons

Haunted

Believing that the spirit of the little girl still lingered on the island, Don Julián started to collect any dolls that happened to flow into the canal. To try and appease the little girl’s spirit and protect himself from any evil spirits that might have been on the island, Julián began to hang the dolls from the island’s trees.

But that only added to the supernatural aura of the island.

Broken dollsPsagency1990, Wikimedia Commons

Total Obsession

From then on, Don Julián claimed that every time he ventured outside, more dolls appeared in the trees. The dolls soon became an obsession of his own, and he transformed the island into an unsettling shrine.

He continued to scour the canals and garbage dumps for more dolls, adding to the collection with damaged and deranged-looking pieces. He even went so far as to trade his own vegetables for dolls.

Spookiest Places On Earth factsFlickr, Alejandro De La Cruz

An Eerie Sight

As time passed and the island’s tiny residents fell prey to the elements, it became the spectacle of terror that it is known for today. Most of the dolls were already broken or disheveled when Julián found them, but exposure to the elements made their decay worse.

Today, many of dolls are missing heads and limbs, and their lifeless eyes only add to the haunting atmosphere of the island.

The Island Of The Dolls, MexicoGabriel O., Adobe Stock

A Dark End

Don Julián dedicated 50 years to his consuming obsession, until he passed in 2001. In an unsettling twist, he passed on near the spot of the young girl’s drowning. 

Those who believe in the island’s supernatural history suggest that Don Julián also drowned, or that the girl’s spirit finally took his life.

Creepy dollsEmmanuel Eslava, Wikimedia Commons

The Legacy Of The Island Of The Dolls

Today, some of the locals maintain that the dolls become animated at night: they whistle, whisper, and even swivel their heads. Thanks to Don Julián, the Island of the Dolls boasts the largest collection of haunted dolls in the world.

Over the years, the island has become a popular spot for those who enjoy the darker side of tourism. A journey through the canals offers a wonderful chance to experience traditional Mexican culture and the eerie mysteries of the Island Of The Dolls.

The Island Of The Dolls Has A Terrifying HistoryWikimedia Commons