Nearly everyone has heard of the prison known as Alcatraz. It is located on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, which is 1.5 miles offshore of San Francisco, California. Commonly called The Rock, this small island was initially outfitted with places for a lighthouse and a fort. It served as a military prison beginning in 1868 and was a federal prison from 1933 until 1963. In 1972, Alcatraz was turned into a national recreation area. In 1986, it became a National Historic Landmark.
Today haunted Alcatraz is managed by National Park Service and is open to tourists that reach the island by a ferry ride. The abandoned prison still stands on the island, as does the lighthouse, military forts, a seabird colony, rock pools and other natural features.
Alcatraz Prison History
Alcatraz was created to get rebellious prisoners in line by making them participate in a structured and boring regimen until their time was up. Prisoners of Alcatraz were allowed four things. These basics were food, clothes, shelter and health care. If they wanted anything else, they had to earn it. Such well-known criminals as Al Capone, Arthur “Doc” Barker, Alvin Karpis and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly were all at Alcatraz. Mobsters of this caliber in other prisons usually found ways to get the guards to afford them special privileges. This, however, didn’t happen at Alcatraz. All of the prisoners there were treated the same way.
Alcatraz Prisoner Punishments
One of Alcatraz’s famous punishments was being confined to the Strip Cell. It was located on the lower part of the D Block. This dark steel cell required inmates to strip naked while they were in there. They were only allowed bread and water once a day with a meal once in a while. They did get a mattress at night. There wasn’t a sink, and a hole in the floor served as their toilet. This was also an isolation cell so prisoners were cut off from everyone else and their time spent there was in pitch black darkness.
There was also The Hole located on D Block. Like the strip cell, there were five more “hole” cells on the lower part of the prison. Prisoners could be held in isolation in these holes for as long as 19 days. These cells contained only a sink, toilet, and light bulb with a mattress given only at night.
With Alcatraz resting on an island, it was kept quite isolated from the public. This may have been part of the reason that there were many tales of cruelty and torture of the prisoners held there. On the other hand, it may be these very mistreated prisoners that are responsible for the many hauntings reported over the years at Alcatraz.
The prison closed in 1963 due to the high cost of remodeling to get it up to standard. As portions of the prison were open to tourists later, it is these tourists that carry the tales of various sightings of specters and sensations that are ghostly. However, there have been Park Services employees that have also noticed some spooky goings on.
An area that claims quite a bit of strange animation is a utility corridor that was the scene of inmates Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard and Bernard Coy being brought down by bullets while trying to escape. A nighttime security guard working at Alcatraz in 1976 reported unexplained clanging noises emanating from inside this corridor. He opened the door twice to check that corridor but the sounds would stop and he saw nothing. As soon as he closed the door, they would begin once more.
One of the “hole” cells, Cell 14D, is thought to also exhibit some ghostly activity. There is a circulating tale of something that happened in the 1940’s. A prisoner was said to have been locked in Cell 14D for breaking a rule. As soon as he was locked in, he began screaming that there was something in there with him that had glowing eyes. He screamed well into the night that this thing was trying to kill him. Finally, he went silent. The next morning, he was found dead in 14D with a terrified expression frozen on his face.
Not only that, there were marks around his neck indicating that he had been strangled, which an autopsy supported. It was thought that maybe one of the guards got tired of listening to him scream so he strangled him but no one admitted it. During head count the following day, the guards came up with one prisoner too many. They claimed to see the dead prisoner lining up with everyone else but he vanished seconds later. Employees and visitors alike report feeling a cold sensation there as well a sudden “intensity” in the cell.
Warden Johnston, also called “The Golden Rule Warden,” reported an unsettling event as he showed some guests around the prison. He and the group heard a sobbing coming from inside the prison, just before a cold wind blew through them. Johnston didn’t believe in ghosts but never could explain what happened.
Visitors in Cellblocks A and B report moaning and crying noises. A psychic that visited Block C encountered a scary spirit named Butcher. It was later confirmed through prison records that a mob hit man named Abie Maldowitz, also called The Butcher, was murdered by another prisoner in Block C.
Then there’s, perhaps, Alcatraz’s most famous ghost of all: Al Capone. Dying from syphilis, Capone started playing the banjo. He was afraid to go out into the “yard” during his exercise time, so he got permission to spend this time playing his banjo in the shower. Park employees and visitors alike have heard the strains of a banjo drifting from inside the prison.
Alcatraz Prison Haunted
In addition to these well-known events presented in the above chapter, there have been more scary reports through the years. These include smell of smoke, moaning and crying noises, cold spots, and ghost sightings of prisoners and military personnel.
If you’re interested in visiting the prison site and, possibly, experiencing your own hauntings, there are tours that you can join through Alcatraz Cruises. These are year round and conducted during the day or at night …