History and Hauntings of Alcatraz Prison
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.
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.
Do You Believe Alcatraz Is Haunted?
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
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.
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