Alcatraz Island is located in the bay of San Francisco, California. Originally developed with lighthouse facilities, it became in succession, a military fortification, a Civil War military prison (1868) and a Federal prison from 1933 to 1963. Its storied past makes it one of the most haunted prisons in the United States. What many people do not know is that members of the Ohlone nation who had committed deeds unacceptable to the tribe were deported to the island, which probably served as burial grounds for these outcasts. Their stories are full of descriptions of Alcatraz as a “bad place” and “evil spirits” that walked there. But Haunted Alcatraz Prison really began for most Americans with the period of incarceration of some of America’s most notorious criminals in the Federal prison system.
“The Rock” as the prison and island came to be known, housed the most violent criminals as George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Al Capone, Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz,) Mickey Cohen and Alvin “Kreepy” Karpis, among others. The prisoners moved to Alcatraz were those who continuously caused the most trouble at other Federal Prisons, a sort of last resort for those too hardened for rehabilitation. Alcatraz, known as the toughest prison in America, lived up to its reputation with some prisoners losing their sanity.
Former prisoners, guards of the prison and later, rangers of the National Park Service, now responsible for the island, tell stories of whispers coming from empty cells, sightings of phantom figures, sounds of sewing machines, musical instruments and feeling distinct cold spots. The Los Angeles Times describes Alcatraz as “most notorious federal penitentiary this country has ever known. It’s history runs far and deep, as do the stories, the rumors and the legends.” citing it as one of the five major haunted spots in California. Many prisoners called it “Hellcatraz,” but even so, some volunteered to move to the prison because the living conditions and food were better.
Some prisoners reported strange whispering sounds, floating blue lights, moaning, and the clanking of chains in cells that were unoccupied. Prisoners went insane after serving time on Alcatraz, even going so far as to chop off their own fingers and then beg another inmate to do the same to their other hand. One of them screamed for hours and said he saw glowing red eyes in the dark. He was found the next morning, dead, with a purple face, bulging eyes and odd strangle marks around his throat. No trace was found of anything or anyone in the cell with him. The rumors of brutality and inhumane conditions didn’t faze the American public. They’d gone through times when gangsters machine gunned each other on the streets and they’d had enough.
Of all the cell blocks at Alcatraz the most prolific in paranormal activity is Cell Block D and in particular Cell 14-D is considered the most haunted cell. It’s permanently icy-cold, even during summer and ranges from 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than anywhere else in the prison. The shower room is haunted by a banjo playing ghost, perhaps Capone, because that’s where he used to practice on his banjo. And although Robert Stroud was never permitted to have birds on Alcatraz, two people have reported hearing what they described as canaries singing in the cell where he spent the rest of his life. Guards and visitors have felt icy fingers on the back of their neck, only to turn around quickly and see…no one! One ranger reported cell doors moving in the night when they were locked and she had the only keys.
Numerous paranormal investigators have combed the prison, block by block, cell by cell. Their results range from finding nothing to a magnetometer suddenly picking up the sound of sewing machines and working energy in the building where former inmates sewed. The young woman monitoring the magnetometer noticed the jump of activity and suddenly felt an intense pain in her neck, which then quickly went away. Unknown to the investigators at the time, they were on the spot where prisoner Henri Young murdered another prisoner, Rufus McCain, by stabbing him in the neck.
Tours are available on Alcatraz through the National Park Service at Fees and Passes Alcatraz
Be sure to make your reservations well in advance, don’t wait until you’re in San Francisco to secure them. The ticket price includes the ferry from San Francisco to “The Rock.”
Want to know more of the legends and stories of Alcatraz Prison? There are many that space and time doesn’t allow, but if you want to know more about the history and hauntings, see below for something that might interest you.
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