Imagine, if you will, the world's creepiest old-timey doll collection. Now imagine, if you dare, those glassy-eyed figures in various stages of decay and disrepair—cracked, limbless, caked in grime—and strung up by the hundreds on a floating speck of land inhabited by no living soul.
(Credit: Esparta Palma / Flickr)
This unsettling Island of Misfit Toys lurks amid the Xochimilco canals in the southern part of the Mexican capital. The network of waterways and artificial islets here was created by the Aztec people and is now recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The doll infestation on one of the isles, however, dates from a more recent period and is the handiwork of one Don Julian Santana Barrera, a hermit who moved to the spot in the 1950s.
As Atlas Obscura explains, the man became obsessed with—or maybe possessed by—the tale (possibly dreamed up by the hermit himself) of a young girl who drowned nearby.
He started hanging up dolls from the island's trees—and filling his shack with dolls, too—to turn the place into a kind of shrine to the girl's spirit, or to protect his home from spectral mischief, or to satisfy some compulsion known only to him. Take your pick.
(Credit: Kevin / Flickr)
Over the next 50 years or so, until Don Julian's death in 2001, dolls proliferated on the island—in fact, nearby residents say he'd trade produce for more dolls, and he didn't care what condition they were in.
Exposure to the elements has, over several decades, warped and soiled the thicket of dangling dolls, creating what looks today like an FAO Schwarz of the damned.
(Credit: avf71 / Shutterstock)
The spot can only be reached by boat, adding a note of the macabre to otherwise joyful rides aboard the colorful, pole-propelled trajineras that ferry tourists through the canals amid views of historic structures and shorebirds, often to the accompaniment of onboard mariachi musicians.
(Trajinera boat at Isla de las Muñecas in Mexico City's Xochimilco canals | Credit: marketa1982 / Shutterstock)
Thank your lucky stars you won't visit the Island of the Dolls at night. Guinness World Records, which has named the site "the world's largest collection of haunted dolls," reports local lore claiming the blank-faced figures become animated by the spirits of the dead after dark.
"They say the dolls whisper, whistle, move their limbs, and turn their heads of their own accord," the record trackers relate.
Makes the Clown Motel sound like a barrel of laughs by comparison, doesn't it?
(Credit: Kevin / Flickr)