There is a disturbing circular nature to the story of “La Isla de la Muñecas,” or the Island of the Dolls.
Over fifty years ago, Don Julian Santana left his wife and child and moved onto an island on Teshuilo Lake in the Xochimilco canals. According to some, a young girl actually drowned in the lake, while most others, including his relatives, say Don Julian Santana merely imagined the drowned girl. Regardless, Don Julian Santana devoted his life to honoring this lost soul in a unique, fascinating, and—for some—unnerving way: he collected and hung up dolls by the hundreds. Eventually, Don Julian transformed the entire island into a kind of bizarre, (for some) horrifying, doll-infested wonderland.
Don Julian Santana began collecting lost dolls from the canals and the trash near his island home. He is also said to have traded produce he grew to locals for more dolls. Santana did not clean up the dolls or attempt to fix them, but rather put them up with missing eyes and limbs, covered in dirt, and generally in whatever ramshackle state he found them in. Even when dolls arrived in good shape, the wind and weather turned them into cracked and distorted versions of themselves.
Don Julian also kept his cabin filled with the dolls, which he dressed in headdresses, sunglasses, and other accoutrement. Despite the fact that most people found the isle frightening, Don Julian saw the dolls as beautiful protectors, and he welcomed visitors, whom he would show around, charging a small fee for taking photos.
In 2001 Don Julian Santana was found drowned in the same area in which he believed the little girl had died.
Know Before You Go
Located in the Xochimilco borough 17 miles south of the center of Mexico City. Best way to get there is to leave from Embarcadero Cuemanco. It's four hours round trip and cost $1,4000 MEX or roughly $75 US dollars. Keep an eye out for some of the wildlife during your boat trip. Commonly seen creatures include pelicans, king fishers, egrets, and several species of water snakes.