The Island of the Dolls

By Alex Hoban

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Sometimes when people get into a religious sulk they do things like fly planes into buildings or dress their kids in white and drown them in bleach. So, in the grand scheme of wacko theological attention-seeking, when Don Julian was run out of the barrios for preaching to venerate Christ by decorating a secluded island with creepy dolls, he was actually being pretty reasonable.

If you pay enough dinero to one of the many gondoliers lingering along the canals of Xochimilco on the outskirts of Mexico City, they'll take you on the arduous four-hour round trip to Don Julian's former stomping ground, La Isla de las Muñecas. There you'll be confronted by a forest of children's dolls, their flesh blistering and boiling beneath the sun.

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In the 1950s Don Julian was preaching the word of the Lord Jesus Christ at a time when Mexicans weren't willing to hear it. With it presumed that only anointed priests had the right to speak of Jehovah in all his glory, people took offense to Julian's liberal God talk, to the extent that he was repeatedly beaten up for his sins. Around this time he began his strange habit of combing dustbins for dolls, which he lovingly collected to--obviously –-ward off evil spirits.

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Leaving his wife and children behind, he moved to the uninhabited island that would become his home for the next fifty years until his strange death in 2001.

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The old story goes that a girl once drowned on the island, and by collecting dolls Julian believed he could keep at bay the demons that were trying to get to her in the afterlife. The girl's existence has never actually been proven, though.

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Don Julian was ignored for decades as he sailed along Xochimilco's canals, fishing for discarded dolls to take back to his creepy island. The few who were aware of Don Julian's strange activity would periodically bring him fresh dolls, which he would trade for produce grown on the island. He basically turned old dolls into a kind of currency at the heart of a mad micro-economy of repressed religious lust, trading phallic turnips for degraded bodies.

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Despite his macabre pursuit, Don Julian was known as a friendly and welcoming man, who happily toured visitors around his island shrine to rotting child effigies.

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His favorite doll was called Monec, and in the latter days of his life he would sit Monec in a small hut surrounded by a collage of the many newspaper clippings by local reporters that gradually brought the Island of The Dolls to Mexico's attention and made Don Julian a minor celebrity.

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Don Juan's story came to a close in 2001 when he was found drowned, aged 80, in the location just off the island's coast where he'd always claimed the little girl had died. Now only his collection of plastic-born babies remains, enduring the relentless heat. His son maintains the eerie island, inviting tourists that are willing to make the long trip to come and visit his sprawling, degraded collection.

Click through to page two to see some more moody photos of garroted dolls. They're spooky.

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