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Beyond the Bars: Discovering the Hidden Gems of Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, is infamous for being home to one of the most notorious federal prisons in American history. However, there is more to this island than just its dark past. Alcatraz Island tours offer visitors a chance to explore not only the prison cells and facilities but also the hidden gems that make this destination a truly unique experience. In this article, we will delve into some of these hidden gems and why you should consider getting tickets for an Alcatraz Island tour.

The History of Alcatraz Island

Before we dive into the hidden gems, it’s important to understand the rich history of Alcatraz Island. Originally used as a military fortification in the mid-19th century, it later became a federal prison from 1934 to 1963. The island housed some of America’s most notorious criminals, such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, also known as “The Birdman.” Today, it stands as a National Historic Landmark and attracts millions of visitors each year.

Exploring the Prison Cells and Facilities

One of the main attractions of an Alcatraz Island tour is exploring the prison cells and facilities. Visitors can step inside actual prison cells and get a glimpse into what life was like for inmates during their time on “The Rock.” The tour provides an immersive experience where you can walk through cell blocks, visit mess halls, and even see solitary confinement units.

Additionally, there are guided tours led by knowledgeable park rangers who provide detailed information about daily life on Alcatraz Island. They share captivating stories about famous escape attempts and provide insights into how prisoners lived during their time behind bars. These tours offer a deeper understanding of what it was like to be incarcerated on this isolated island.

Natural Beauty and Wildlife

While Alcatraz Island is known for its prison, it also offers stunning natural beauty and an array of wildlife. The island is home to a variety of plants and flowers, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the island’s gardens and enjoy breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline.

Moreover, Alcatraz Island is a prime spot for bird watching. The island serves as a nesting ground for countless seabirds, including cormorants and egrets. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the opportunity to observe these majestic creatures up close.

The Lighthouse and Alcatraz Island Bookstore

Another hidden gem on Alcatraz Island is its historic lighthouse. Built in 1854, the lighthouse played a crucial role in guiding ships safely through the treacherous waters of the San Francisco Bay. Visitors can explore this iconic structure and learn about its fascinating history.

Lastly, no visit to Alcatraz Island would be complete without stopping by the Alcatraz Island Bookstore. Located in the former prison’s New Industries Building, this bookstore offers an extensive collection of books related to Alcatraz’s history and infamous inmates. It’s the perfect place to find a unique souvenir or delve deeper into your newfound fascination with this historic site.

In conclusion, an Alcatraz Island tour goes beyond just exploring prison cells; it unveils hidden gems that showcase both its dark past and natural beauty. From stepping inside actual prison cells to witnessing breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay, there is something for everyone on this captivating island. So don’t miss out on getting tickets for an unforgettable experience at Alcatraz Island.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


alcatraz prison ghost stories

Is Alcatraz Haunted?

The legend of alcatraz.

According to legend, Alcatraz prison is known to be one of the most haunted spots in the country, if not in the world. Is it really haunted though? For many people that have visited the prison and have experienced supernatural phenomena, it certainly seems to be haunted in a mysterious way.

Staying at Alcatraz was no joke and even the spirits of the most insane and notorious criminals were broken there. It is said that the empty cells inside the walls of Alcatraz are still home to the restless ghosts that remain there. Some of the worst criminals in America including Arthur Doc Barker, Machine Gun Kelly, and Al Capone spent many days behind bars in this prison.

Where to Find Alcatraz Ghosts

alcatraz prison ghost stories

The prison was built to be a maximum security place where  Alcatraz’s most dangerous inmates  would have minimum privileges. Prisoners breaking the rules would be sent to the strip cell where they would have to remove all of their clothing and spend time in a cell with no lights, no sink, no mattress, and only a hole inside the ground for a toilet. For this reason, it has been said that many Alcatraz ghosts aren’t able to move on from Alcatraz to make a new home in the spiritual world.

The Most Haunted Alcatraz Cells

The Dreaded Cell 14D

Be sure to visit this cell on your Alcatraz day tour so you can be can the screaming of an Alcatraz ghost from where an inmate died after screaming that a creature was going to kill him. Many visitors have said that they have felt an extreme coldness wrapping around them in the room as if many spirits were still present.

Experience the A, B and C Cell Blocks

Make sure to also view these cell blocks when you visit Alcatraz. Many people that have toured the prison have said that they can hear moaning and crying coming from these blocks. You may even run into the Alcatraz ghost called the “Butcher”, who was known to be assassinated here in the 1940s. You never know what you will run into when you take the plunge and find out more about this exciting yet daunting prison island!

alcatraz prison ghost stories

Is Alcatraz haunted? You’ll have to be the judge of that. Make sure that you take one of the Alcatraz island tours that allow you to learn more about the island and the prison and experience it for yourself. It’s certain that at the very least this foreboding prison will give you the chills along with some exciting tales to take home with you!


alcatraz prison ghost stories

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Alcatraz: Island of Evil Spirits

Historical Essay

by Dr. Weirde

Alcatraz aerial 1930s.jpg

Alcatraz from the air, 1930s.

Photo: Facebook download


Alcatraz island from the San Francisco side.

The Miwok Indians have always considered Alcatraz, the barren sandstone rock in San Francisco Bay, inhabited by evil spirits. They must have been petrified with fear when the U.S. Army brought them to the rock in chains and shackles in 1859, the first year that Alcatraz was used as a prison. The rock served as a military prison throughout the 19th century. Beginning in 1907, prisoners were put to work building what was then the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. When it was completed in 1912, the workers who built it became its first inmates.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons took over in 1933 and installed a higher class of criminal----people like Machine Gun Kelly, Birdman Stroud, and Al Capone. Life on "The Rock" included the dubious pleasures of watching luxury liners cruise off to ports unknown, the lights of the San Francisco skyline twinkling invitingly--while inmates spent anywhere from 19 to 24 hours a day in a five-by-nine-foot cell. On some nights inmates could hear the wealthy partying at the St. Francis Yacht Club across the bay, their happy shouts punctuated by the tinkle of feminine laughter. Little wonder that suicides and murders were a regular occurrence.

One of the worst incidents was an attempted escape in May, 1946 that turned into a bloody standoff and left three men dead. The Block C unit where the inmates died is believed by some National Park employees to be haunted; strange clanging noises break out at night from the empty corridor, but stop as soon as the watchman opens the door. Cell blocks A and B, too, have had their share of weird incidents. Employees have heard mysterious screams, running footsteps, and loud crashing sounds there.


Alcatraz cell block

The most notorious "haunted cell" is 14-D, one of the notorious "holes" where rebellious inmates were confined in total isolation. 14-D is permeated by a perpetual chill. One inmate, Rufe McCain, was confined here for over three years after an escape attempt. Shortly after being released from the hole, he stabbed another inmate to death, and was acquitted--on the ground that cell 14-D had done irreparable damage to his psyche.

In 1984, Ranger and night watchman Rex Norman was awakened by the sound of a weighty steel door swinging wildly in Cell Block C. The sound stopped when he got there, but began again the next night, and the next...

So on September 10th, 1984, the Park system brought psychic Sylvia Brown to Alcatraz, accompanied by a CBS news team. Brown identified the troublemaking ghost as "Butcher" Malkowitz, a hit man who had been killed by another prisoner in the laundry room. During a seance, Brown tried to convince the Butcher's ghost to leave the prison, but the ghost refused. But even if the Butcher does finally up and leave, Alcatraz will undoubtedly remain what the Indians always said it was: an island of evil spirits.

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Legends of America

Legends of America

Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., ghosts of alcatraz island, california.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California by Kathy Alexander.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California by Kathy Alexander.

With its centuries-old history from ancient  Native Americans , to  Fort Alcatraz , to a Military Barracks, and most often known service as one of the toughest federal penitentiaries in the Nation, it is no wonder that this place is said to be one of the most haunted in the nation.

Often described as a portal to another dimension, Alcatraz is filled with the energy of those who came to the “Rock” and seemingly never left.

From its first visitors, tales and legends of the island have circulated for several centuries. In the beginning, the Native Americans believed the island to be inhabited by evil spirits.

As severe punishment for violations of tribal law,  Indians were sometimes isolated on the island or even banished for life to live among the evil spirits.

Today, these spirits that continue to lurk in the shadows of the often fog-enshrouded island have been heard, seen, and felt by both the staff and many visitors to Alcatraz. The sounds of men’s voices, screams, whistles, clanging metal doors, and terrifying screams are said to be heard within these historic walls, especially near the dungeon.

While the island served as a  federal penitentiary , several guards reported extraordinary experiences, including hearing the sounds of sobbing and moaning, terrible smells, and reports of what they called “The Thing,” an entity that was said to appear with glowing eyes. Other reports were made of phantom prisoners and soldiers appearing before the guards and families who lived on the island.

The old warden's home on Alcatraz Island, by Kathy Alexander.

The old warden’s home on Alcatraz Island, by Kathy Alexander.

Reportedly, even Warden Johnston, who did not believe in ghosts, once encountered the unmistakable sounds of a woman sobbing while leading several guests on a tour of the prison. The cries, heard by the warden and the guests, were described as coming from inside the walls of the dungeon. Just as the sobbing stopped, an icy cold wind blew through the group.

Since the 1940s, apparitions have been seen at the site of the now burned-out shell of the warden’s house. During a Christmas Party at Warden Johnston’s, several guards told the story of a ghostly man who suddenly appeared before them wearing a gray suit, brimmed cap, and sporting mutton-chop sideburns. As the startled guards stared at the apparition, the room suddenly turned very cold, and the fire in the Ben Franklin stove was extinguished. Less than a minute later, the spirit vanished.

Often, it has been reported that the old lighthouse will suddenly appear on foggy nights, accompanied by an eerie whistling sound and a flashing green light that makes its way slowly around the island. Appearing to both guards and visitors alike, the spectacle vanishes just as suddenly as it appears.

Cellblock at Alcatraz today, by Kathy Alexander.

Cellblock at Alcatraz today, by Kathy Alexander.

When the prison was still open, other guards told of hearing phantom cannon and gunshots, accompanied by screams that were so real they sent the seasoned guards to the ground, believing that prisoners had somehow escaped and obtained weapons. After taking cover, the guards would then cautiously look about to see absolutely nothing. These incidents could never be explained.

Another often reported experience of the guards was the smell of smoke that often came from a deserted laundry room as if something was on fire. When they investigated, the black smoke was so thick it drove the guards from the room. However, just minutes later, the room was completely smoke-free.

The notorious D-Block of the prison is said to have been and continues to be the most haunted block in all the prison. While first built the same as the other cell blocks, the Bureau of Prisons appropriated additional money for a more secure D-Block after the 1939 escape attempt, in which Arthur “Doc” Barker was killed.

D-Block, which became known as the “Treatment Unit,” comprised of 42 cells with varying degrees of restrictions. For all prisoners incarcerated in D-Block, there was no contact with the general population. Thirty-six of the cells were virtually like the others in the general population; however, inmates were not allowed to work nor go to the mess hall for meals. They were allowed only one visit to the recreation yard and two showers each week, and all meals were served in the cells. Their only diversion was reading of prison-approved material. These cells all faced the Golden Gate Bridge, from which fierce cold winds often blew. One guard who worked D-Block was known to turn on the air conditioning to make it even colder for those confined on the block.

A cell in the "Hole," by Kathy Alexander.

A cell in the “Hole,” by Kathy Alexander.

Five of the remaining six cells in D-Block were known as Strip Cells but were more often referred to as the “Hole.” Reserved for the most severe offenders of prison rules, these cells were located on the bottom tier, the coldest place in the prison, and contained only a sink, a toilet, and a low wattage light bulb that the guards could turn off. The prisoner’s mattresses were taken away during the day, and they were not allowed at any time in the yard or showers or given reading materials. Inmates could be sentenced to as many as 19 days in the hole, completely isolated and in a state of constant boredom.

The last Strip Cell, known as the “Oriental,” was the most severe punishment the prison could assign. Assuring complete deprivation of all peripheral senses, the dark steel-encased cell contained no sink or toilet, just a small hole in the floor for prisoner waste.

Inmates were placed naked in the cell, given a restricted diet, and confined in a pitch-black, cold environment. Although a sleeping mattress was allowed at night, it was removed at dawn each morning. Inmates were usually only subject to this degree of punishment for only 1-2 days.

A former guard who worked at the prison in the 1940s reported that guards often saw the ghostly presence of a man dressed in late 1800s prison attire walking the hallway next to the Strip Cells. On one occasion, when an inmate was locked in “the Hole,’ he immediately began to scream that someone with glowing eyes was in there with him. The 19th-century spectral prisoner had become so much of a practical joke among the guards that the convict’s cries of being “attacked” were ignored. The inmate’s screams continued well into the night when they were suddenly replaced by total silence. When the guards inspected the cell the following morning, the convict was found dead with a terrible expression on his face and noticeable hand-prints around his throat. The autopsy revealed that the strangulation was not self-inflicted.

A cell in Alcatraz by Kathy Alexander.

A cell in Alcatraz by Kathy Alexander.

At the time, many believed the inmate was strangled by a guard who had finally had enough of the inmate’s screaming. Though an investigation was made, no one ever admitted to the strangling. Most believed that the prisoner was killed by the restless, evil spirit of the 19th-century prisoner who was often seen wandering the corridors. Adding to the mystery, when the guards line up the convicts for a daily count, one too many convicts were in the line-up. At the end of the row appeared the recently strangled convict. As everyone, guards and prisoners alike, looked on in stunned silence, the ghostly figure vanished.

Today’s visitors and staff often report cold spots within the hallways of D-Block, as well as sudden intense feelings. Cells and 12 and 14 D are the most active. Cell 14-D is often reported to be almost 20 degrees colder than the rest of the cells on the block, and numerous psychics have felt emotionally charged impressions in the corners of the cells where punished prisoners were known to have crouched and suffered. These cells are so eerie that it is said that some park rangers refuse to go there alone.

When authors Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn, authors of the book Haunted Houses, made a trip to  Alcatraz , they also felt eerie feelings in cell 14-D. When the pair entered the cell along with a park ranger, they all felt strong vibrations and tingling sensations in their hands and arms. Convinced that something or someone was there with them, Osborn stated that she had never felt so much psychic energy in one spot.

Overlooking the Recreation Yard by Kathy Alexander.

Overlooking the Recreation Yard by Kathy Alexander.

Co-author of the book  Haunted Alcatraz , Michael Kouri, also had described receiving psychic impressions when he visited cell 14-D. Also experiencing tingling sensations, he tells of “seeing” a small man with his head shaved who “told” of being beaten, his legs broken by guards, and left in solitary confinement.

On another occasion, when renowned ghost hunter Richard Senate and a psychic spent the night on Alcatraz, Senate locked himself in cell 12-D, where an evil spirit is said to make his home. As the steel door was closed, the ghost hunter felt icy fingers wrap around his neck while the experienced psychic visions of the bodies of twisted and dismembered men.

In Cellblock C, many believe that the utility passageway where convicts Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard were killed during their escape attempt in 1946 is haunted. Loud, clanging noises are often heard but stop when the door is opened, only to resume once closed. Others have reported seeing the apparitions of men wearing fatigues and hearing disembodied voices at the riot site that left the three prisoners dead.

Alcatraz Hospital

Alcatraz Hospital

The laundry room in Cellblock C is also said to hold an unseen presence. When a CBS news team brought in celebrity psychic Sylvia Brown, along with ex-convict Leon Thompson, Sylvia immediately encountered the unseen presence and strong impressions of violence in the Laundry Room.  As she described a tall man with a bald head and small beady eyes, Leon Thompson, the ex-convict, moved forward, stating: “I remember Butcher. He was a hitman with Murder Incorporated before they caught him. His name was Abie Maldowitz, but we called him Butcher. Another prisoner killed him here in the laundry room.” Prison records confirmed that Maldowitz was killed by another inmate in the laundry area of Cellblock C.

In the old hospital ward, park personnel has often heard voices and the screams of inmates who were often secured to a table until they were calmed down. Voices are also heard in the old mess hall.

When Al Capone was imprisoned at Alcatraz, he was assigned to a cell located on the outer west end of Cellblock B. Though the gangster was never allowed a musical instrument or a radio, many have reported the sound of a phantom banjo strumming within his cell.

Alcatraz Administration Building by Kathy Alexander.

Alcatraz Administration Building by Kathy Alexander.

In 1992, Alcatraz was featured on the popular television program  Sightings , where several of the Park Service staff confirmed the haunted history of the prison. Among the stories told by staff were unexplainable crashing sounds, running footsteps, unearthly screams, cell doors that mysteriously closed of their own accord, moans, chains rattling, and the constant feelings of being watched.

Sightings also enlisted the help of a psychic investigator, Peter James, to get his impressions as he walked through the prison. James soon described hearing the voices of men who had been driven mad and experiences of abuse, fear, and pain.

The tales of ghostly hauntings upon Alcatraz Island have become so frequent that the legends have become as popular as the island’s long history. Seemingly, the paranormal prison is destined to live up to its popular nickname of “Hellcatraz.”

©  Kathy Weiser / Legends of America , updated November 2021.

See readers story below

Alcatraz History

A Daring Escape From Alcatraz

Ghost Stories

San Francisco History

San Francisco Photo Gallery

alcatraz prison ghost stories

Was the woman real or a spirit from another time?

Readers Story – August 2012

Myself, my daughter and her college friend toured Alcatraz in July. The attached photo was taken with a phone camera from my daughter’s friend. She refused to keep it on her phone. If you look closely… a woman is sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck. When this picture was taken… there was NO ONE in that truck. I know because I love classic cars/trucks and was waiting for my turn to take a photo. I was off to the rear left of the truck. There was a mother/daughter off directly to the left of the truck and my daughter had gone ahead. The truck was a display and I believe it belonged to one of the warden’s. Can you tell me, did you ever hear of there being any female ghosts on Alcatraz. This photo shook me, my daughter, and her friend pretty bad.

Any info you have would be greatly appreciated.

Kristine Castillo, RN photo is attached…if you enlarge it you can see this woman very clearly.

alcatraz prison ghost stories

alcatraz prison ghost stories

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6 Spooky Haunted Places in San Francisco

6 Spooky Haunted Places in San Francisco

From grisly suicides to human sacrifices, the tales behind these haunted places in san francisco are sure to send a chill down your spine...whether you believe in ghosts or not., alcatraz: the ghost of cell 14d​.

What was once a military prison for war criminals, and later converted into a federal prison for some of the worst criminals in history (think Al Capone, Machine-Gun Kelly, and Whitey Bulger), is now one of the most haunted spots in the Bay Area— and for good reason. Convicted felons were not sent to Alcatraz to become better citizens. They went there to suffer.

Cell 14D is said to be the most haunted cell in the prison, and many people have claimed to feel a strange coldness while walking around the area or even caught a glimpse of a spirit roaming around the premises. It is believed that one night in the 1940s, a prisoner of the cell was screaming in terror about seeing a creature with glowing eyes. The next day, officers found the prisoner strangled to death in his cell. The ghost of that prisoner now roams the area, seeking revenge.

// Book a tour at alcatrazcruises.com .

Queen Anne Hotel: The Ghost of Mary Lake

From the outside, the Queen Anne Hotel looks like your typical Victorian B&B, but it's what's on the inside that's a bit irregular, particularly Room 410. Before the Queen Anne became a hotel, it was a boarding school for girls ran by a woman named Mary Lake, and legend has it that Mary Lake's ghost still haunts the place. Hotel guests have claimed to feel cold chills and even see a white figure in Room 410. Even more strange? This is one benevolent ghost—Mary has reportedly been responsible for tucking in guests' feet during the night. In fact, guests frequently request Room 410 in hopes to catch a glance of the kind Mary Lake.

Sutro Forest Suicides

Today, Sutro Forest is a beautiful, green woodland perfect for urban hikes, but it never used to be so inviting. In 1904, the forest was a dark and sinister place utilized for one thing: suicides . Sutro Forest was so secluded that people would often go there to take their own lives. Eventually, however, hikers came across a gruesome scene in the woods: multiple, decomposed bodied were seen hanging from the trees. Some say that the forest is indeed haunted, and locals have claimed to hear the moaning of the dead or see something moving through the trees that they can't explain.

Sutro Baths Human Sacrifices

You've probably already heard the rumor that Sutro Baths was once used for human sacrifices . The story goes, if you walk toward the very end of the cave and light a candle, you will summon the spirits of the sacrificed and they will pick up the candle to toss it into the water below you. Who wants to give it a try?

Stow Lake: The Lady in White

During the day, Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake is a great place for a boat ride, walking your dog, or visiting the waterfall at Strawberry Hill. When the sun goes down and the fog rolls in, however, Stow Lake becomes a walking ground for the Lady in White. Legend has it that somewhere around the 1930s, an unmarried pregnant woman decided to hid the pregnancy from her family. Once the baby was born, she disposed of it before killing herself in the lake. Now, if you decide to walk around Stow Lake at night, you might see a woman wearing a white dress asking for her baby. Be careful, though: if the lady comes up to you and asks if you've seen her baby, say yes, she will only continue to haunt you. But if you say no, she will kill you. We've also been told that if you chant, "White lady, white lady, I have your baby," three times, you might just summon the spirit of the woman out of the lake.

Donaldina Cameron House

Remember in The Pursuit of Happyness , when Will Smith's character provides his son with some memorable words of wisdom on the basketball court? What you probably didn't know, was that the basketball court is actually part of the Donaldina Cameron House , a modern day Chinese family center.

Back in the 1880s, the building served as a safe house for female Chinese immigrants. At the turn of the century, only Chinese men were allowed to come to America to obtain jobs, and Chinese women were forced to sneak over. It was the Donaldina Cameron house that took these women in, to house and care for them in their vunerable situations. Disaster struck, though, when locals set fire to the home. The house was eventually rebuilt, but since then, people have reported seeing many spirits walk around the facility. The Donaldina Cameron House is perhaps the most active haunted house in the city, and has a reputation for scaring the living daylight out of its guests and staff members alike.

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alcatraz prison ghost stories

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Alcatraz (Spanish for Island of Pelicans ) is an island near San Fransisco bay, San Fransisco, California, United States. It is well known as the site of the most well-known prison in the world. Alcatraz prison was a high-security prison that was built on the island so that it would be near impossible for people to escape. The prison was under fully blown security at all times. Only one person has ever escaped from the prison, and that was Jens.

The prison's execution punishment was also brutal and bloody. They carried out executions in the prison via electric chairs and hanging. One of the prisons 'Forms of Punishment' was a very dark cell. This cell was completely pitch black and there was absolutely no light in it. Prisoners who misbehaved were put into this cell for as much as a fortnight. The true horror of this punishment is that it often drove the prisoners mad, causing them to hallucinate. Many prisoners used to scream that there was something in the room with them, although the guards simply laughed it off. One person was found dead after this practice. Many people have blamed this on one of the ghosts in Alcatraz.

Alcatraz prison was first built during the American civil war. The prison built at this point was called 'The Citadel'. It was a war camp. Many torture methods were carried out here. The Citadel collapsed but years later, The prison that stands today was build on top of the remains. The underground structures of The Citadel are still there and are accessible through the current building. The prison was shut down some time after the World War Two. During it's time of activity, it held some of the most infamous criminals in the United States history.

History [ ]

The federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the chilly waters of California’s San Francisco Bay housed some of America’s most difficult and dangerous felons during its years of operation from 1934 to 1963. Among those who served time at the maximum-security facility were the notorious gangster Al “Scarface” Capone (1899-1947) and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud (1890-1963). No inmate ever successfully escaped The Rock, as the prison was nicknamed, although more than a dozen known attempts were made over the years. After the prison was shut down due to high operating costs, the island was occupied for almost two years, starting in 1969, by a group of Native-American activists. Today, historic Alcatraz Island, which was also the site of a U.S. military prison from the late 1850s to 1933, is a popular tourist destination.


In 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-97) mapped and named rugged Alcatraz Island, christening it La Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, due to its large population of sea birds. Seventy-five years later, in 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800-74) signed an order reserving the island for military use. During the 1850s, a fortress was constructed on Alcatraz and some 100 cannons were installed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay. Also during this time, Alcatraz became home to the West Coast’s first operational lighthouse.

By the late 1850s, the U.S. Army had begun holding military prisoners at Alcatraz. Isolated from the mainland by the cold, strong waters of San Francisco Bay, the island was deemed an ideal location for a prison. It was assumed no Alcatraz inmate could attempt to escape by swimming and survive.

During its years as a military prison, the inmates at Alcatraz included Confederate sympathizers and citizens accused of treason during the American Civil War (1861-65). Alcatraz also housed a number of “rebellious” American Indians, including 19 Hopis from the Arizona Territory who were sent to the prison in 1895 following land disagreements with the federal government. The inmate population at Alcatraz continued to rise during the Spanish-American War (1898).

During the early 20th century, inmate labor fueled the construction of a new cellhouse (the 600-cell structure still stands today) on Alcatraz, along with a hospital, mess hall and other prison buildings. According to the National Park Service, when this new complex was finished in 1912 it was the world’s largest reinforced concrete building.

A FEDERAL PRISON: 1934-63 [ ]

In 1933, the Army relinquished Alcatraz to the U.S. Justice Department, which wanted a federal prison that could house a criminal population too difficult or dangerous to be handled by other U.S. penitentiaries. Following construction to make the existing complex at Alcatraz more secure, the maximum-security facility officially opened on July 1, 1934. The first warden, James A. Johnston (1874-1954), hired approximately one guard for every three prisoners. Each prisoner had his own cell.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) viewed Alcatraz as “the prison system’s prison,” a place where the most disruptive inmates could be sent to live under sparse conditions with few privileges in order to learn how to follow rules (at which point, they could be transferred to other federal prisons to complete their sentences). According to the BOP, Alcatraz typically held some 260 to 275 prisoners, which represented less than 1 percent of the entire federal inmate population.


Over the years, there were 14 known attempts to escape from Alcatraz, involving 36 inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that of these would-be escapees, 23 were captured, six were shot and killed during their attempted getaways, two drowned and five went missing and were presumed drowned.

The most famous escape attempt resulted in a battle, from May 2 to May 4, 1946, in which six prisoners overpowered cellhouse officers and were able to gain access to weapons, but not the keys needed to leave the prison. In the ensuing battle, the prisoners killed two correctional officers and injured 18 others. The U.S. Marines were called in, and the battle ended with the deaths of three of the rogue inmates and the trial of the three others, two of whom received the death penalty for their actions.


The federal penitentiary at Alcatraz was shut down in 1963 because its operating expenses were much higher than those of other federal facilities at the time. (The prison’s island location meant all food and supplies had to be shipped in, at great expense.) Furthermore, the isolated island buildings were beginning to crumble due to exposure to the salty sea air. During nearly three decades of operation, Alcatraz housed a total of 1,576 men.

In 1969, a group of Native Americans led by Mohawk activist Richard Oakes (1942-72) arrived on Alcatraz Island and claimed the land on behalf of “Indians of All Tribes.” The activists hoped to establish a university and a museum on the island. Oakes left Alcatraz following the death there of his stepdaughter in 1970, and the remaining occupiers, whose ranks had become increasingly contentious and divided, were removed by order of President Richard M. Nixon (1913-94) in 1971. The island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 and was opened to the public a year later. Today, some 1 million tourists visit Alcatraz each year. [1]

Hauntings [ ]

The reputation of Alcatraz, like the solid ground it was built on, represents a lasting reminder, that no man is above the law, and for some, it is an eternal payback for their crimes against humanity---kind of an paranormal prison. Here are some of the stories.

During a Sightings visit in 1992, several of the Park Service staff confirmed the haunted history of Alcatraz. Many rangers had experienced unexplainable crashing sounds, cell doors mysteriously closing, unearthly screams, and intense feelings of being watched. Sightings called on psychic investigator Peter James to walk through portions of the abandoned prison to get his impressions. James began to pick up on the voices of the tortured souls driven mad since it's inception as a prison. He also sensed unusual vibrations of abuse, mistreatment, fear, and pain. His overall impression of Alcatraz was, that it had an energy like no other he had ever experienced---a persistent and overwhelming intensity that engulfed the island.

Some of the more haunted locations on Alcatraz appear to be the Warden's House, the hospital, the laundry room, and Cell Block C utility door where convicts Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard died during their escape attempt in 1946. The most haunted area on Alcatraz, is the "D" cell block, or solitary, as it was often called. To most who go there, a feeling of sudden intensity pervades the cells and corridor. Some rangers refuse to go there alone. It is intensely cold in certain cells, far colder than normal---especially cell 14-D. This cell is oftentimes so cold, that wearing a jacket barely helps---even though the surrounding area is twenty degrees warmer. It is no wonder the area was called "The Hole."

When authors, Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn visited Alcatraz, they ventured down to solitary with a park ranger. As Osborn entered cell 14-D, she immediately felt strong vibrations coming from within. Winer and the ranger followed Osborn, and within seconds, each of them experienced an intense tingling sensation in their hands and arms---they were convinced that something or someone was in there with them. The far corner of the cell where they were standing, and feeling the intense energy, was the exact spot where the naked, shivering prisoners would huddle, night after night, in the unforgiving darkness. Osborn said that she had never felt so much energy before in one spot.

Renowned ghosthunter Richard Senate, and a psychic spent the night on Alcatraz as part of a KGO radio promotion. They chose Al Capone's cell as a place of temporary refuge. According to Senate, emotions seemed to drip from every corner of Alcatraz as the long night progressed. He and the psychic visited the spots where rangers said they heard marching footsteps, and clanking metal; however, nothing happened. Finally, Senate locked himself in cell 12-D, where an evil and persistent ghost is rumored to dwell. As the thick, steel door was closed, Senate immediately felt icy fingers on his neck, and his hair stood on end. He knew he was not alone. Additionally, the psychic picked up on the twisted and dismembered bodies of uniformed men. Both left the island convinced that Alcatraz had its own special energy.

According to Antoinette May, much of the paranormal activity on Alcatraz occurs around areas associated with the penitentiary's worst tragedies. One of them is the Block C utility corridor, Cell Blocks A and B, with the eeriest area centering around cell 14-D---where it is always cold. According to May, gifted psychic Sylvia Brown accompanied by a CBS news team, investigated parts of Alcatraz. As Brown toured the prison hospital she picked up cards and notes tacked up on a wall, and the letter "S." A ranger confirmed that the "S" probably stood for Robert Stroud who spent ten-and-a-half years in the hospital, in the very room they were standing. He also had hundreds of notes and cards tacked up all around him. Brown sensed strong energy in what used to be the therapy room, and the prison laundry room, where at least one prisoner was murdered.

Co-author, Michael Kouri, visited Alcatraz Island in July of 1984 with his uncle. After several preliminary psychic impressions, Kouri reached cell 14-D, and entered. He first felt a "tingling sensation", which began at his fingertips; then, a very intense feeling of cold engulfed him. In a slight trance, he began to communicate with the spirit of a man of small stature; who had his head shaved and was left in "The Hole." The spirit, in obvious pain, "told" a horrifying tale of being beaten, his leg broken by guards, and left in solitary confinement---he had squealed on a fellow inmate---the year was 1939. Kouri then tried to lead the poor soul to the light. [Note: Kouri's other unique experience with a visitor, is truly remarkable, as well as an interview with the wife of an ex-warden---but you'll have wait until the book comes out].

A former guard related his stories about Cell Block D (particularly cells 12 and 14), and the frightening remnant energy lingering in the subterranean portion of the prison. During his stint during the mid-1940, convicts were often confined in one of the 14 cells in "D" Block (cells 9-14 were called "The Hole," because they contained no windows, and only one light which could be turned off by the guards. The darkness made it seem like a hole in the ground---hence the name. On one occasion, an inmate was locked in "The Hole". Within seconds, the inmate began screaming that someone with glowing eyes was in there with him. Tales of a ghostly presence wandering the darkened corridors in clothing from the late 1800,s were a continual source of practical joking among the guards, so the convict's pleas of being "attacked," were ignored.

The man's screaming continued well into the night, until there was silence. The following day, the guards inspected the cell---the convict was dead, a horrible expression etched on his face, and noticeable hand marks around his throat. The autopsy revealed that the strangulation was not self-inflicted. Some say he was strangled by a guard who had enough of the man's screaming---although no guard ever admitted it, even to the other guards. Others believed it was the restless, evil spirit of a former inmate who exacted his vengeance on yet another helpless soul. To add to the mystery, the day after the tragedy, several guards, performing a routine lineup of the convicts, counted one too many people. At the end of the line, the guards witnessed an extra body---that of the recently deceased convict. As everyone looked on in stunned silence, the figure of the ghostly convict vanished into thin air!

A number of guards from 1946 through 1963, experienced something out of the ordinary at one time or another. From the outer rim on the grounds to the deepest caverns, there was constant talk of people sobbing and moaning, horrible smells, cold spots, and seeing the "thing" with glowing eyes. Even groups of phantom prisoners and soldiers have appeared in front of startled guards, guests, and the families who lived on the island.

Sometimes the old lighthouse (long since demolished) appeared out of a dense fog, accompanied by a ghostly whistling sound, and a great flashing light which passed slowly around the entire island, just as if the Lighthouse was still active. The spectacle would then vanish before the startled eyes of guards and visitors. Phantom cannon shots, gun shots, and screams oftentimes sent seasoned guards falling flat on their stomachs thinking that prisoners had escaped and obtained weapons. Each time, there was no explanation. A deserted laundry room would sometimes emanate a strong scent of smoke, as if something was on fire. The sensation of the choking smoke would drive guards out of the room, only to return a few minutes later, the area now completely smoke free---the phantom smoke occurred many times over the years.

Even Warden Johnston, who didn't believe in ghosts, encountered the unmistakable sounds of woman sobbing, as if coming from inside the walls of the dungeon while he accompanied a number of guests on a tour of the facility. As if that weren't enough, an icy, cold gust of wind blew through the group, chilling them to the bone, just as the sobbing stopped.

The now burned-out shell of the Warden's House, has also been a focal point for sightings since the 1940s. During a Christmas Party, several guards witnessed the chilling apparition of a man wearing a gray suit, brimmed cap, and mutton chop side burns. When the men saw the apparition, the room turned deathly cold, the fire in the Ben Franklin stove was extinguished, and after less than a minute, the man vanished.

These are but a few of the "Haunted Alcatraz" stories. [2]

References [ ]

  • ↑ http://www.history.com/topics/alcatraz
  • ↑ http://theshadowlands.net/famous/alcatraz.htm
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Haunted Destination: Alcatraz

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See where Al Capone spent his final years -- and maybe even encounter the notorious gangster’s ghost. But first, you’ll need to board a ferry at Pier 33 in San Francisco , then traverse the cold and choppy waters of the Bay. At the other end you’ll find Alcatraz Island , once the home of an infamous maximum-security prison where Capone was one of many tough and hardened criminals consigned to a grim fate. The prison’s relative isolation from the public eye spawned many rumors that torture of inmates was a common practice -- and a few souls may still linger in testament to that. In the prison’s later years, guards often reported strange noises coming from the utility corridor where 3 inmates were shot during a failed prison escape. Not to be outdone, Capone himself may still be making his presence known. Capone spent most of his downtime playing a banjo in the prison’s shower room. In recent years, many visitors have heard the eerily upbeat sound of a banjo emanating from that very space. Visit … and maybe Al will treat you to a tune.

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