Isla de las Munecas | The Island of Dead Dolls (Mexico)

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A small island, located south of Mexico city, has its shores covered with tons of beautiful white lilies floating atop a tranquil lake and a silent forest fully covered with a variety of dolls hanging from the trees and is surrounded with pleasant canals. The description of the island portrays a picture of some exquisite fantasy land; but it is not. The whole island is covered with spooky decaying mutilated dolls with cleaved heads, bodies without limbs and empty eye sockets staring back at the visitors in an eerie manner while hanging from the trees with cobwebs, nasty insects and scoundrel birds. The chilling island mentioned here is known as Isla de las Munecas, which translates to “The Island of Dead Dolls”, which is located south of Mexico City, between the canals of Xochimico and Cumanco. This place has a disturbing yet touching background story which acts as the main reason for its attraction.

The place was named during 1950’s due to the owner and sole inhabitant of the island, Don Julian Santana Barrera who came to live on the island to escape the stress and tautness of city life. The legend says that one day Don Julian made a bone chilling discovery on the shores of his island; he found the dead body of a drowned little girl, floating entangled in the white lilies on the shore. A doll came hovering its way down the canal shortly afterwards. He hung the doll around the tree near the shore, thinking that it belonged to the drowned girl and dedicated it to the soul of the poor little girl who met death too soon. After that incident he began to hear whispers of a girl saying “I want my doll” repeatedly. He also heard footsteps and cries of a girl cursing him for not saving her life. Driven by fear he started hanging dolls all around the trees and fences, believing that by doing so he could appease the soul of the drowned girl and keep evil souls and energies away.

Some myths say that Don Julian felt that the dolls were the tortured spirits of the children who died earlier due to a religious practice prominent in the tribes located near Mexico. In these ritual mothers drowned their children in the lake in order to get rid of their family’s sins and find salivation. Whereas some doubt the existence of the drowned girl and say that Julian lost his mind and made up the story on his own due to his loneliness. A popular belief is that Don Julian believed the dolls to be real children whom he pulled out of the canal and tried to revive. But the truth as told by his family, whom he left years ago, is that Don Julian considered himself guilty for the death of the girl and to make the girl’s spirit contended he began hanging dolls around every possible surface in the forest; on tress, fences, ramshackle buildings and branches. He did this for next fifty years of his life by scavenging abandoned dolls from garbage bins and waters of Cuemanco canal. He also began selling home grown fruits and vegetables in return for dolls and hung all the collected dolls from the trees in order to turn the island into the shrine of the little girl.

The place gained more fame when Mexican film maker, Emilio Fernandez, filmed the film “Maria Candelaria” and tourists from all around the world visited this place to savor the uncanny experiences in the forests of the island. The visitors and tourists claim that they heard whispers of the dolls asking them for more dolls. Thus in response visitors started to bring more dolls to the island and hung them around trees in order to add to this truly gruesome memorial. The locals describe the place as charmed; not haunted, in spite of visitors claiming to hear whispers and footsteps in the darkness and some even witnessed dolls swivel their heads and limbs. Now the ghastly shrine of the little girl has turned into a popular tourist spot for people come to explore the mysteries of the dolls. The current caretaker of the place, nephew of Don Julian, asserts that he is used to such movements and whispers of the dolls.

Another incident added to the secrets of the Island of the Dead Dolls; the death of Don Julian in 2001, when he died of an unnatural heart attack and his body was found floating at the same spot where he repeatedly said he found the little dead girl fifty years before. Don Julian Santana Barrera died with many unanswered mysteries of the drowned girl, whispering and movement of dolls and also the mystery of his own death.  Well, this is the reason why it is said that, Man knows so very little about this strange planet he lives on, this haunted world where all answers lead to only more mysteries.

Amisha Sharma, Bhopal

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