June 27, 2024 | Sarah Ng

The Truth About The Island Of The Dolls


Real-Life Horror

Without a doubt, La Isla de las Muñecas, or "The Island of the Dolls," is like a horror film come to life.

Dolls-Msn

Dark Tourism At Its Finest

Completely covered in dirty and battered dolls, the island—located south of the center of Mexico City—already has an air of terror. However, its haunting history makes it a must-see destination for paranormal enthusiasts, and today, it's a thriving tourist attraction.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, Mexicomarketa1982, Shutterstock

The Origin Story

To understand why and how The Island of the Dolls came to be, one must understand the heart-wrenching story of Don Julian Santana Barrera.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEsparta Palma, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Was Unstable

Reportedly, Barrera moved to the island in the 1950s, leaving his wife and family behind. Though his reasons for isolating himself are difficult to pinpoint, some sources say that he was mentally unwell.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoKatyaMSL, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Finding Her Body

It wasn't long after moving that Barrera made the most upsetting discovery imaginable: He found a girl's body in the canals.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoWa17gs, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Drowning In The Water Lilies

The young girl is said to have drowned after getting caught in the water lilies. This awful event altered Barrera's life and the island's fate forever.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoWa17gs, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Found Her Doll

The next day, Barrera made another discovery. This time, it was a doll floating in the canals. Assuming that this doll likely belonged to the girl he'd found the day before, he made a strange decision.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEneas De Troya, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Her Spirit Haunted Him

To honor the young girl and keep her spirit happy, Barrera strung her doll up in a tree. However, as the legend goes, the dead girl continued to haunt the island and Barrera himself.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEmmanuel Eslava, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Creepiest Dolls

Barrera claimed that dolls began appearing in the trees over time—and some of them were downright chilling to look at as they were missing crucial body parts. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoPx-lga, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Appeasing Her Spirit

In lieu of some bad luck and his failed crops, Barrera continued to look for dolls to appease the girl's spirit. In a way, the island became his twisted shrine.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoPx-lga, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Looking For More

Barrera went to extreme lengths to gather as many dolls as he could, even rummaging through garbage and looking in the canals. He even used the produce he grew in his personal garden, trading the vegetables for more dolls.

The dolls Barrera found came in a variety of states—and many of them were already shabby and terrifying to look at.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoPx-lga, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

They Got Scarier Over Time

At the mercy of the elements, these dolls have only grown more unnerving with time—and is one of the reasons it's become a center for dark tourism.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEmmanuel Eslava, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Way To Protect Himself

For five decades, Barrera's doll collection began to overrun the island. And though we may consider them "haunted" today, Barrera probably saw them as necessary measures for his own protection.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoWa17gs, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The End Of Barrera

In 2001, a chilling incident came to pass. When Barrera's nephew came to visit, he took him fishing in the canal.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoPx-lga, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Spoke Of Mermaids

While fishing, 80-year-old Barrera began exuberantly singing, but also made some unsettling comments. He began saying odd things, talking about how there were mermaids beckoning to him from the water. 

However, it wasn't until Barrera's nephew left him alone for a short time that things went wrong.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEmmanuel Eslava, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

His Very Own Tragedy

When the nephew returned to his uncle's side, a tragedy awaited him. He found Barrera's body in the canal—face down. But that wasn't all.

Photo of Creepy old doll in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEmmanuel Eslava, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Died In The Same Place

Apparently, Barrera lost his life in roughly the same location that the young girl drowned—all those years ago.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoEmmanuel Eslava, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

How Did He Die?

Obviously, the public has wildly speculated about the cause of Barrera's death, which range from a heart attack to drowning. True believers of the island's haunting even point fingers at the girl's spirit.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoDante 51, Flickr

The Dolls Move On Their Own

Those who live locally have made some jaw-dropping claims about the dolls themselves. Some say that the dolls become animated during the night.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoAndrea Di Castro, Flickr

They Whisper To Each Other

There have been eerie reports of the dolls moving on their own, turning their heads—even whistling and whispering. Of course, the non-believers would just blame the wind.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoNoel Cecil, Flickr

Making Offerings

Those who visit the island have been known to offer things to the dolls. Some even change the dolls' clothes, and maintain a sense of reverence for the island and its history.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoWa17gs, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons 

Bring Your Own Doll

Since Barrera's passing, tourists have continued to honor his memory by bringing their own dolls to the island and stringing them up alongside all the others.

Photo of Creepy old dolls in the abandoned Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, MexicoKevin, Flickr


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