Clarissa Johal: Frightening Friday-Haunted Alcatraz

Friday, June 27, 2014

Frightening Friday-Haunted Alcatraz

Photo courtesy of kconnors via morgueFile
Long before Alcatraz became home to some of the most notorious criminals in America, it had a bad reputation. The Ohlone believed it to contain evil spirits and often utilized the island as a place of isolation or banishment for members violating tribal laws. 

After serving as a military garrison and military prison in 1868, the Federal Government decided to turn the island a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary in 1933. For 30 years the prison kept the country’s most notorious criminals separate from the rest of the world. The heavy fog, cold winds and icy waters makes Alcatraz Island one of the most isolated of places. 

It's also cited as one of the most haunted places in America. 

During its time as a penitentiary, both inmates and guards reported a wide range of ghostly activity. When the prison reopened in 1973 as a tourist attraction, many park rangers and visitors have also reported paranormal experiences. Alcatraz is reputedly haunted by the ghosts of Native Americans, military prisoners and inmates--all who perished on the island.

The Ghost Stories of Alcatraz

Cell block C-The Utility Corridor 
In 1946, after a very bloody riot and failed prison escape, inmates Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer and Marvin Hubbard were killed in this area. Employees have reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from the corridor at night. When they check, the clanging stops only to start up again as soon as they walk away. Others have reported hearing disembodied voices and seeing the apparitions of men wearing fatigues.

Hospital Ward
The hospital is now closed to tours but park rangers have often heard voices and screams coming from within. When they check for trespassers, they find the ward deserted. A few park rangers have reported seeing hazy apparitions on the stairwell leading to the hospital.

The Cafeteria
When the tourists have gone and the place is quiet, park rangers have heard the muffled sounds of voices and the clanking of silverware coming from the empty cafeteria.

Cell blocks A, B, and C
Visitors have claimed to hear crying and moaning from within. Heavy cell doors have been reported to slam shut on their own. There are several specifically haunted sites within the cell block, but park rangers often report strange sounds echoing throughout: coughs, laughs, whistles, and the playing of a harmonica. After the last of the tourist boats have left for the day, night watchmen say that they have heard the sounds of running from the upper tiers. Thinking that intruders are inside the prison, they investigate but always find nothing.

D-Block "The Hole"
D-Block was comprised of 42 cells with varying degrees of restrictions. Thirty-six of the cells were standard 5x9 cells with a sink, toilet and a cot. Prisoners were allowed one visit to the recreation yard and two showers each week. Five of the remaining six cells in D-Block were known as Strip Cells and often referred to as "the Hole.” Reserved for the most serious of offenders of prison rules, they contained no windows and only one light in the hallway which could be turned off by the guards. The last Strip Cell, known as the “Oriental,” was the most severe punishment the prison could assign. Assuring complete deprivation of all 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 totally pitch-black, cold environment. 

Today’s visitors and staff often report cold spots and sudden intense feelings within D-Block. Cell 14-D is the most active and reported to be almost 20 degrees colder than the rest of the cells. These cells are so eerie, some park rangers refuse to go there alone.

 Al Capone
Al Capone spent 4-1/2 years in Alcatraz. Visitors and employees have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls and emanating from the shower room, where Capone used to practice his playing.

The Warden's House
Since the 1940’s, apparitions have been seen at the site of the now burned-out shell of the warden’s house. During a Christmas Party, several guards say a man 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.

The Old Lighthouse
It has been reported that the old lighthouse, which has long been demolished, appears out of a dense fog. The appearance is accompanied by a whistling sound and a flashing light. The light passes slowly around the entire island just as if the lighthouse was still active. Witnesses say the spectacle vanishes as quickly as it appears. 

Other Paranormal Reports
When Alcatraz was still a working prison, guards tell of hearing phantom cannon and gunshots, accompanied by screams. Believing that prisoners had somehow escaped and obtained weapons, the guards would investigate and find nothing. Another often reported experience was the smell of smoke coming from a deserted laundry room. When guards went to investigate, the smoke was so thick it drove them from the room. However, just minutes later, the room was complete smoke free. Other events experienced over the years include ghostly voices, people being touched, and claims of seeing the ghosts of prisoners or military personnel.

My Experience

Photo courtesy of Lori Manning via photobucket
I've visited Alcatraz Island twice. Both times, I was struck with the "weight" of the place. I challenge even the most hardcore sceptic to ignore that feeling of heaviness because it's tangible. I didn't see any ghosts but had one experience that I can't explain.

I was eighteen at the time and had driven to San Francisco for the day. Wandering Pier 39, I decided to buy a ticket to Alcatraz Island--I was unfamiliar with its history and thought it would be interesting.

During the tour (and only if you wish) you can be locked in "the Hole" for several minutes to see what it was like. I opted in with several other brave souls. First of all, solitary is pitch black and you can barely hear anything outside of the cell. After several moments, I became a bit claustrophobic and murmured something to that effect. A man standing behind me said, "Don't worry, kiddo. It's not for much longer," which made me feel better because several minutes seriously felt like hours. I consider myself quite comfortable with being "solitary" but I would have gone nuts in there. Well, when they finally opened the cell door, I turned to thank the man for his comment. Turns out there was no man. I had been locked in the cell with four other women. I asked the women about the voice and none of them had heard it. But I swear, it was a man's voice and a man's presence behind me. I would have staked my life on it.

If you visit San Francisco and decide to take the ferry ride out to Alcatraz Island, make sure you reserve your tickets way ahead of time because tours fill up fast.
Alcatraz Cruises
Alcatraz Tickets
Alcatraz Island Tickets

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