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.
In the 1950s, a hermit named Don Julián Santana Barrera moved to the island. However, the land also came with a chilling legend. According to the story, years ago, a small girl tragically drowned after getting caught in the canal’s water lilies.
Don Julián truly believed that he could hear the girl 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.
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From then on, Don Julián claimed that every time he ventured outside, more dolls appeared in the trees—some of them even dismembered or decapitated. 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. 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.
Don Julián dedicated 50 years to his consuming obsession, until he passed in 2001. In an unsettling twist, he died 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.
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—or La Isla de las Muñecas—boasts the largest collection of haunted dolls in the world.
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