The Canals of Xochimilico hold a mystical charm that seems almost unsettling. Over hundreds of years the area has been desecrated to only one canal. This sole tributary is all that is left of the ancient Lake Xochimilico.Â Still, the strength of the Aztecs thrives in this remnant, this living alter of Mexico’s history.
On an island near the canals, an old legend tells a story that seems to mirror the survival and strength of the Mexican culture. The Island of Dolls, La Isla de las Munecas in Spanish, is known by many and respected by most.
On a small island on Teshuilo Lake, between Xochimilco and Mexico City,Â three young girls were playing in the area when one drowned. Of course the area become known as a haunted spot and few trespassed on the land.
A loner by the name of Julian Santana chose the place to live and honored the spirit child, said to haunt the area,Â with dolls. Often, Santana would find old discarded dolls to bring to the island as an offering. The dolls, tied to trees, in addition to a special alter he constructed for the child, became known by locals.
What was also learned was that Santana had a wonderful garden of fresh produce. Locals began bringing old dolls in trade for fresh vegetables. The trade increased the collection so much that the island now has an amazing collection of thousands of dolls in various stages of disintegration.
While creepy and even morbid may be the initial reaction, there is an amazing and uplifting sense that comes from this type of legend. The island became an alter that is still being visited and decorated today. Santana’s respect for the spirit child became a way for locals to honor her as well, even if it was for the fresh produce.
Much like the famed Dia de los Muertos, the Isla de las Munecas makes us look at death and demise in a different light. Morbid and strange differs from culture to culture and the dolls of this Island offer a surreal look at aging and death. While it may be strange, and even absurd, at one time it was believed that the dolls mad a little girl very happy. Who knows, maybe even today she relishes an addition to her island resting place.