Lost Limbs Foundation

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Island of the Dolls

The Island of the Dolls
One doll is creepy - a whle island of them is a complete creep fest!
















In the borough of Xochimilco, Mexico, is a series of artificial islands, or Chinampas. These islands were a way of artificially increasing the amount of land, fed by a good, clean water source in the Valley of Mexico.

Some of these artificial islands are nearly a hundred years old, and have started to show signs of degradation, with the wattle fenced off areas that form the sides of the islands starting to cave in, spilling the organically rich soils into the canals that run between them.

Luckily, the site has gained world heritage status, meaning hopefully the sites will be maintained. This is good for the farmers who still use the islands for agriculture, but also as the sites are a great tourist attraction... especially one such Chinampas: The Island of the Dolls.

For many years it was thought no one lived on this island, until some clean up work was being done in the area to clear the canals of excess lilies. It was at this time the dolls were found, and following this, it was soon discovered that there was a man living there, without any services or visitors.

Julian Santana Barrera (also known as Don Julian and Don Juan) soon came to fame however, after he shared his story.

He told of how he used to preach the word of Jesus Christ, but as he was not a properly anointed priest, many people took offence to his preaching and he was beaten up several times.

With a feeling of dismay, Julian left his family, and moved to the uninhabited Chinampa.

It was here that a young girl’s body was discovered, drowned in the canal that surrounded his island home. He feared for her soul, and with the belief that dark entities would torment her, he started to collect discarded dolls, in order to protect her and bring her companionship.

Julian would travel the canals and street of the nearby towns, looking for forgotten dolls in which to take back to his island. Their condition didn't matter, as he would repair them.

If a doll was missing a limb, he would take a limb from a spare doll and attach it, same went with head, hair, eyes... it did not matter if they created a bizarre franken-doll, the more fearful they looked the better!

He would hang them in the trees and bushes throughout his island, nail them to the run-down structures farmers would have once kept tools in. Other times he would find just a dolls head, these he would place on a post, almost like a head on a pike. Julian also strung up lengths of rope to hang dolls from. Everywhere you look a doll looks back at you from dead, fading eyes.

Even creepier is the wildlife that has taken up residence within the dolls cavities. It is not unknown to find spiders crawling out of eyes, or other insects creeping out of mouths....

Julian Barrera believed the dolls would come to life at night, to hunt the small animals that lived on the island. I can not think of anything more creepy than a broken, degrading, blistering, fading doll roaming about the bushes, hunting its prey. Julian was obviously content that they were all on his side!

Although he was essentially a loner, locals who knew he was there would visit him on a regular basis, trading a doll for some of the produce he grew. However they did not really talk about him to outsiders, so the island fell into obscurity, another empty chinampa.

After the dolls and Julian were discovered, the island quickly became a spot for people interested in touring the bizarre. Julian was more than happy to show people around his ‘shrine’, including the room reserved for his favorite doll 'Monec'.

Julian passed away on his island in 2001. Many rumors circulated about how he died. Old age, the dolls killed him, the vengeful spirits broke through and got to him, or he finally went mad and took his own life.

The story of his death is just as creepy as the dolls that he collected in life. It is said Julian, and his nephew Anastasio, were fishing off a small pier in April 2001, when Julian started complaining that he could hear the voices calling out to him, from the water.

This was not unusual, as he often talked about the voices he could hear, but this time he said he was finding it hard to resist them.

When Anastasio returned, sometime later, he discovered his Uncles body floating face down in the canal, at the same spot the young girl’s body had been discovered, so many years before. Julian Santana Barrera had been living on the Island of the Dolls for some 50 years.

Had the island itself finally caught up with him?


Ashley Hall 2013.

Photo: The island of the dolls by mutedrevolution
Inset: Creepy dolls. Upper by Alexandra, Lower by Esparta Palma

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