Over the past few days, I’ve been having the “horror” discussion a few times with a few different individuals. What is it? What makes it appealing? Does all horror fall under the same umbrella? Where do you draw the line between the things that creep and the things that scare versus the things meant to titillate and disgust?
I think it’s all relative — we draw from experience and expand the lens on the things that dig into our history both as individuals and collectively. What scares me might scare you, but maybe not.
In the effort to overturn a few rocks, to push a little deeper, I tend to google for inspiration. A few months ago I came across one gem that has the makings for a haunting little story. Suffice to say, in the “What is horror” discussion, I often veer towards the supernatural and unexplained. I can rationalize the axe murderer and psychopaths, but the paranormal? I lose my footing a bit. Stumble around trying to put things together, and when I can’t, well… I guess that’s where the fear comes in.
Trauma, kids. We’re talking about real life trauma that finds its origins in the physical world, that carries over into death like a wind through the dark.
La Isla de la Munecas is an island situated between the canals of Xochimico in Mexico. Translated, it’s also referred to as the Island of the Dolls.
It doesn’t take an awful lot to figure out why.
The story goes that once upon a time the island’s caretaker — a proficient gardener by the name of Don Julien who dearly loved children — kept the island open for tourists and locals alike from nearby Mexico City. It was a verdurous refuge, beautiful and well-maintained, and brought in many visitors over the duration that he cared for its upkeep. One day, a little girl visiting the island disappeared. There’s some speculation as to the how and why of her disappearance — some say Don Julien was responsible, others say the tragedy was merely an accident — regardless, when her little body turned up drowned in one of the island’s streams, Don Julien claimed he tried to save her. It didn’t really matter, because in the end a haunting is a haunting whether its true or merely imagined. And that little girl’s spirit wasn’t going to leave Don Julien alone.
Don Julien went a little mad, in the end; he claimed that the girl’s spirit persisted in following him around. He become obsessed. In order to appease her, he made offrenda (offerings) of dolls to tame her spirit, to atone, to settle her soul. It’s not an uncommon custom in Mexico to make offerings, especially around Dias de Muertos (seasonally close to Halloween in the Western world.) The magnitude of those offerings manifested in thousands of dolls hung about the trees, fences, and structures that populate the island.
The tricky bit is that no one is quite sure where Don Julian got the dolls. It’s entirely possible that he brought them to the island himself, painstakingly collecting them and using them to adorn his home to placate the little girl’s spirit. Others have suggested, however, that the dolls began washing ashore on their own.
Don Julian never closed the island, so you can still visit the shrine even if there’s no one there to greet you. Don Julian himself died in the very stream that the little girl drowned in some years ago.
Some say, when visiting La Isla de las Munecas, you sometimes feel as if you’re being followed — tracked by the eyes of the many dolls that remain in this place. Sometimes, some say they turn their heads to watch as you pass.
I can neither attest to this, and nor do I want to, but if you’re interested in visiting, the Island of the Dolls is still very much available to visit by curious sightseers.