Island of the Dolls

Ghost storie, every culture around the world has them and, whether they arise from ancient folklore, the Gothic novelists, or the humble campfire, they continue to both frighten and fascinate. What is it about the ghost story that has held our collective fascination from time immemorial? I have a personal theory that, beyond their chilling narratives, there’s a psychological comfort to be derived from the ghost story. The very idea of a ‘ghost’ fundamentally supports the belief in an afterlife and that something exists beyond the grave. In spite of geographic, political, or cultural differences, an intrinsic fear of death is the one thing most have in common. So, if a good ghost story gives you a cold sort of comfort, then you might consider packing your bags for a trip to Mexico. 

Drifting in a boat through a tangle of narrow canals in Xochimilco, a district of Mexico City, you will find yourself heading toward an isolated island. Though it may seem like any other island at first, as you move closer you'll start to see the dolls. Yes, dolls!! But this is hardly the Island Of Misfit Toys, its more akin to say, Chucky's dream vacation! Its called Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls), home to thousands of mutilated toys hanging from trees and lying on the forest floor, eyeless skulls infested with insects. 

More than 50 years ago, Julian Santana Barrrera, the island's hermit caretaker, allegedly found a drowned girl in a nearby canal, her doll floating alongside her. Later when he heard crying and footsteps around his shack at night, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the girls restless spirit. Attempting to appease the ghost he hung her doll in a tree. When the haunting did not stop, Barrera began hanging more dolls, creating an eerie amalgam of ritual offering and it became a primitive art installation as well. In time Barrera came to believe that all the dolls were possessed and that the island was not only haunted but cursed.   

Some locals agree, and the legend of the boatman comes into play here because they say he will not join you on the island and most locals will not even look at the island as they approach it. Others say they've seen the dolls moving or even opening their eyes. Even more disturbing others claim the toys whisper and gesture when you pass by, as if syaing "join us."  

Sadly in 2001, Barrera reportedly drowned in the same spot as the girl. Locals believe he, too, now haunts the island, which has become a bona fide tourist attraction. Some visitors bring dolls to add to the growing collection, including a wild haired Barbie, clearly having left her Dreamhouse far behind.