A Tribute to the ‘Isla de las Munecas’
better known as the Island of the Dolls
What do you get when you combine an urban legend with a truly macabre collection of dolls? Probably one of the most interesting sights and stories to behold!
Hail and tribute to the late Don Julian Santana Barrera! Don’t know who he is? Let me expand upon this intense retelling of an urban legend. As the Legend goes, Julian came across a poor drowned girl on the Island he lived alone on in Mexico. She had been drowned under unexplained circumstances and hermit Julian had been unable to save her. As a way to pay tribute to the young child, Julian took the doll he found beside the tiny victim, which probably belonged to her and hung it on a nearby tree as a sign of respect. The caretaker of the Island was forever rocked by the situation and devoted his life to collecting and hanging the creepiest little dolls around the property. Close friends and family reported that Julian seemed to be possessed by some insatiable drive to perpetuate the memory of the little girl. 50 years later, Julian was found dead in the canals where he had first encountered the poor child.
Many questions remain unanswered in the case of the Island of the Dolls. While visitors allegedly report seeing the dolls on the island turn their heads, blink or even whispering among themselves, the truth remains that the island is a mysterious and unintentional tourist locale. Did Julian actually drown the girl? My intuition says probably not. Did he create the story as a way to cope with his apparent loneliness? No, that still seems wrong as Julian had chosen to be a hermit and that is not a decision that is made lightly. I think Julian had come across a very tragic scene and perhaps the spirit of the girl had spoken to him in such a way that it made him want to keep her memory alive. It was the ancient Egyptians that believed that if you kept the memories and name remembered of a passed on individual that the act made them immortal in a sort of way.
Julian successfully did just that in his seemingly disturbing quest to memorialize a girl whose name may not be remembered. As many of you know me to be, I am a ‘spirit vessel’ caretaker. All of my dolls and other vessels (they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colours) are my ‘spirit babies.’ As a woman who walks between the worlds of the living in the head (see two-headed woman in the conjure culture) I feel like it is my job to respectfully honor these souls who have chosen to stay behind. I can personally identify with Julian even if we both seem a bit queer in doing our work.
It is really no different than those who attend to the graves of loved ones. Graves, although separated from the home (in most cases, anyway) act as a symbolic conduit to our dead loved ones. We pay tribute by placing flowers, stones, letters and other mementos on these graves as a way to remember and possibly communicate with those on the other side. Modern society has done it’s best to clean up death and dying and separate it as a way of ignoring a part of our culture that is admittedly hard to deal. I believe that visitors are drawn to the Island of the Dolls not only because it’s an interesting source of conversation or a disturbing sight, but also because there is the innate human need to understand the process of death. Macabre fascination is not only normal but very healthy. It’s just not a topic that most of us feel comfortable explaining because it forces us to look at our own fragile mortality. So HAIL, Julian! Your work is respected and appreciated. Hail, little unknown girl, may your spirit find peace in the afterlife!