Skip to main content

History and Hauntings of Alcatraz Prison

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Many rumors, legends, and fantasies surround Alcatraz and the infamous prison escape attempts. Prisoners who attempted to escape often died in their attempts. Many believe their souls have not rested and are still haunting the historical prison.

a view of the island from the bay

a view of the island from the bay

History Before the Hauntings

The island was initially named La Isla de Los Alcatraces by Spanish explorers during their discovery of the island in 1775. The name means "the Island of the Pelican," but was later shortened to Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz is often called "The Rock." It lies in San Francisco Bay at least a mile and a half away from San Francisco, California. It was most famously used as a prison for 30 years from 1934 to 1963, although that was one of its later uses.

One of the earliest uses for the island was home to the very first operating lighthouse on the Pacific Ocean. Around the same time, it became a military base in 1847. It was the perfect place for the military base because they had a great view of San Francisco. At the time, they had a great need to protect San Francisco due to the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, this wasn't as practical of a home base as they initially thought, since it took time and money. Part of the substantial cost was because anything used on the island needed to be transported a mile and a half across the San Francisco Bay.

Treatment of Prisoners at Alcatraz

Shortly afterward, they turned the island into a military prison during the Civil War. Although after the Civil War, the island became quiet for over 30 years before it became the most tightly kept prison we know. Those imprisoned on Alcatraz were the worst of the worst: murderers, rapists, and thieves. It was the year 1898 when the prison began, although at this time it was still just a Civil War prison. In 1934, the infamous Alcatraz prison opened its doors to civilian inmates as well. There had only been 26 inmates before this but the number of inmates grew to 450 that year. It quickly became notorious as the harshest prison ever known to American soil.

They only received the bare necessities: food, water, a roof over their head, a shower, and a doctor. Often the notorious punishment of being tied to a large iron ball on the end of a chain was one of the penalties used on these prisoners. Although not all prisoners were treated this harshly, those in charge of the prison wanted it to be a place people feared, so they made sure to add special reinforcements that would help with its security. For instance, they added four new guard towers, a gun gallery, replaced the bars with cut-resistant metal, among other things. Of course, Alcatraz was an island that limited prisoner's opportunity to escape.

The truth is, much of this was for show. Although some prisoners were treated very poorly, some of the more reliable prisoners were given jobs. Some did housework of families who lived on the island and even caretakers for the youngsters that lived there.

In 1963, it closed due to its ever-increasing cost to keep it running, having been open for 30 years. The island was abandoned until 1972 when Congress decided to preserve Alcatraz as one of the greatest National Historic Landmarks of America that lies within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Congress felt this place held a vibrant history that should be remembered. Today, if you want to see the island, you can get a ferry off of Pier 33, which is near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Native American Beliefs Surrounding the Island

Before even the most hardened criminals had landed there, Native Americans had found the island. They instantly felt that there were terrible spirits there; therefore, they brought some of their people to the island as punishment. If their crimes were awful, they would leave them on Alcatraz permanently. They believed that if left on the island, they would die there, and evil spirits would torture them for eternity. It is interesting, even before it became one of the toughest prisons, Native Americans used the island for punishment.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years to when the prison closed down. Alcatraz became a famous landmark with rumors of evil spirits dwelling there. There are countless stories where people tell how they can feel, hear, and sometimes even see ghosts, evil spirits, and other anomalies. Many believe these spirits are dead prisoners from less than a century ago, but what if the Native Americans were right? These evil spirits could have been there for centuries.

An Inmate Tortured By an Evil Spirit

One story tells about a man who may have encountered one of the evil spirits that the Native Americans supposedly felt. An inmate was locked in solitary confinement, where people only received bread, water, a hole to go to the bathroom in, and given a mattress only at night. This man was locked in when suddenly he began to scream and groan, claiming to see glowing eyes. He would cry out about how this creature was torturing him. The guards assuming the inmate just wanted attention, ignored him throughout the night, but suddenly his cell went quiet. When the guards checked on him in the morning, they found the man strangled with hand marks around his neck. There was no possible way that he did it to himself, according to his autopsy. Some believe that maybe the guards on duty did it, but others think that the strange creature the man had claimed to see, which has come to be known as "the thing," was to blame.

Photo of Jail Cell with Cut Resistant Metal in Alcatraz

an actual jail cell with cut resistant metal

an actual jail cell with cut resistant metal

The Old Lighthouse

Another mysterious story, which is less scary, but still very much intriguing, is regarding the old lighthouse. The original lighthouse was torn down by the time Alcatraz Island became home to the prison. Yet some people believe that on foggy nights, the old lighthouse that had once stood on Alcatraz Island reappears and lights the dark sky.

Haunting of Al Capone

Most people believe Alcatraz is haunted by some of the ex-prisoners who died there, turning on the old lighthouse. One of the most famous ghosts being that of Al Capone. They claim to see white orbs around his former jail cell and hear banjo music, which is what he played before he died. Although the question arises, why would Capone haunt Alcatraz, when he died in his house many miles away? Neurosyphilis took over his mind after he left the prison, and some feel maybe when he left, he left his soul behind.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Exemplore

Abie Maldowitz Hauntings - "Butcher"

Probably one of the more peculiar supposed hauntings is by that of Abie Maldowitz. He was imprisoned as a hitman and otherwise was not well known. Alcatraz attracts many psychics; therefore, it is no wonder that psychic Sylvia Brown went there. One day when she was doing a reading, she came across a cell and claimed to feel a presence. She could only identify the presence by the name of Butcher with no exact information on him. So when old guards did research, they discovered a man murdered someone by the name Abie Maldowitz there. His nickname was "Butcher."

No one will truly know whether or not he or she or any other ghosts haunt the island. Regardless of your beliefs in ghosts or evil spirits, it cannot be denied that Alcatraz Island has a rich history with demons of its own.

© 2011 Angela Michelle Schultz


Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 20, 2013:

Very interesting. I am a believer in ghosts so it seems to me that it is quite possible that haunting occurred. Al Capone added into the mix really adds to the mystery.

Enjoyed reading this from beginning to end. Angels are on the way to you this evening. :) ps

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 02, 2012:

Thank you very much. I must have written a typo, because I had it correct in the other areas. Thank you for catching that for me. I really appreciate it.

shell on May 02, 2012:

your date for alcatraz closing is wrong. you put 1934 not 1963 just thought you should know.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 19, 2012:

Do you feel you are incarnate of one of the prisoners? LOL

Christina on February 02, 2012:

I feel as as I lived there before. I know a particular cell in much detail.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 20, 2011:

Your welcome!!! Thanks for stopping by!

Sun Pen 50 from Srilanka on April 14, 2011:

Interesting. Thank you for a great hub.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 11, 2011:

Thanks mquee

mquee from Columbia, SC on April 06, 2011:

Very good with a lot of detailed information that is not commonly known. A good and interesting learning experience.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 01, 2011:

Why thank you! I am glad I could teach you something!!!

Smokes Angel from Broke Alabama on March 01, 2011:

Excellent Angela I learned from this :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 19, 2011:

For some reason men in the military visiting there, gives it a lot of significance.

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on February 18, 2011:

Interesting. My son visited there when he was in the navy. He said it just creeps you out..the strange feelings you get in certain areas.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 16, 2011:

Yourglobalgirl! You'll have to tell me about it if you go!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 16, 2011:

Well, if you were a prisoner in a past life, at least we can be rest assured that your spirit isn't the one haunting that land, since your spirit is hopefully with you. LOL~!

Yourglobalgirl from UK on February 16, 2011:

Really interesting- I am visiting San Francisco in June so will try to get to Alcatraz. It's always helpful to have information like this and to read up on an area beofre going.

kislany from Cyprus on February 16, 2011:

Great hub, I enjoyed reading about Alcatraz. I might have been a prisoner there in a past life because I am really interested in reading about this place. I watch every movie that comes out about it, lol.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 14, 2011:

Thanks! It is really fascinating isn't it?

Cathyrin from Philippines on February 14, 2011:

Great hub about Alcatraz. Been wondering about its real history for so long. And thanks for giving a glimpse of it here in your hub. :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 13, 2011:

Wendy, I am really jealous!!!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 13, 2011:

Thanks so much DjBryle, I actually wrote a hub on the Bermuda Triangle. Apparently we have similar interests.

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on February 11, 2011:

I've been there. It is really cool to be there. It's a little creepy though.

DjBryle from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =) on February 11, 2011:

I've been curious and fascinated by Alcatraz as much as that of the Bermuda Triangle since I was a teenager for reasons that I don't know of. Thanks for sharing this informative and very amusing hub... although I had an eerie feeling, I can say that I enjoyed reading! Voted up for a useful and awesome hub! =)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 09, 2011:

Looks like we have a little in common. :) I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

cwarden from USA on February 07, 2011:

I've always had a strange fascination with Alcatraz and I still don't know why! Enjoyed your hub!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Thanks Garnetbird, I took them from wikipedia. There were better ones, but I didn't want to step on any copyright problems.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Cmerrit, now they have the technology to make it really secure. But I think a lot of people would be against the inhumaness of a prison like that nowadays.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

dahoglund, I think it was the cost that really caused it to close, plus people were losing faith in it due to all the escapes that were happening. I wanted to write about that too, but the hub was getting really long and I thought it would make a good hub all by itself.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Mentalist, hopefully you'll never have to live there.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Eidwen, Thanks so much, I hope you enjoy it when you finally get a chance to read it all the way through. :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Thanks Pamela, I wonder about the whole haunted things. I heard that it may have been more his neurosyphillis than his time in Alcatraz, but who knows what he experienced there that may had effected his mental being.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 04, 2011:

Thank you so much Denise, I appreciate your input!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on February 04, 2011:

Sad and eerie place--well researched Hub! Good photos, too.

Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on February 04, 2011:

Interesting! I have always had an interest in that prison. I kind of agree with dahoglund, maybe it is time to reopen this prison.

Awesome hub!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on February 04, 2011:

I've always wondered about the closing of Alcatraz when there are claims of lack of prison space.

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on February 04, 2011:

Alcatraz,a home I would not welcome,thanks for sharing Angela.;)

Eiddwen from Wales on February 04, 2011:

I'm going to bookmark this one so that I can refer back to it easily.

I haven't got the time at the moment to read it through properly, but what I have read is brilliant, totally fascinating.

I will return to you in the next couple of days when I've read it through properly.

Thanks for sharing

Take care


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 04, 2011:

Very interesting and well-written hub. Alcatraz may be haunted with all the awful things that happen there. I recently read about Al Capone probably on hub pages and that he did very well in prison until he was sent to Alcatraz. Rated up.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on February 03, 2011:

Excellent hub. Great info. voted it useful and awesome.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 03, 2011:

I'm glad to hear it!

Apostle Jack from Atlanta Ga on February 03, 2011:

Goog hub.I learn a lot.

Related Articles