In the late 1850s, the first inmates to occupy Alcatraz were military prisoners who were put to work building a new prison that later became known as "The Rock." The U.S. Army used the island until 1933, at which time the Federal Government decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary to deal with the most incorrigible inmates.
Alcatraz was designed to break rebellious prisoners by putting them in a structured, monotonous routine until their release. Prisoners were given four basic things - food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Receiving anything beyond that had to be earned. Famous criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis and Arthur "Doc" Barker, spent time in Alcatraz. Mobsters in other prisons often managed to manipulate special privileges from guards, but not at Alcatraz.
- The Strip Cell
Prisoners refusing to follow prison rules risked being confined to the Strip Cell, located on the lower tier of D Block. It was a dark steel cell, where inmates would be stripped naked and given water and bread once daily, an occasional meal and a mattress at night. The only 'toilet' was a hole in the cell floor and there was no sink. While there, convicts had no contact with others, spending their time in pitch-dark solitude.
- The Hole on D Block
Similar to the strip cell, there were five 'hole' cells also on the lower tier, where prisoners were kept in isolation for up to 19 days. The cells had a toilet, sink, lightbulb and a mattress provided during the night only.
Prison ClosureBecause of the huge cost to refurbish the prison it was closed in 1963. Later the island and parts of the prison were reopened by the Parks Services for daily public tours.
Tales of TortureThe fact that Alcatraz was built on an island and kept so isolated from public view, tales of inmates being tortured and of their bitter spirits coming back to haunt the halls of Alcatraz began to circulate.
The Ghost Stories of Alcatraz
- The Utility Corridor
One of the areas which some claim is the most active with paranormal activity is a utility corridor where inmates Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were plummeted with bullets after a failed prison escape. It is there that in 1976 a night security guard reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from inside.
- Cell 14D
Cell 14D, one of the 'hole' cells is believed by some to be very active with spirits. Visitors and employees have reported feeling a raw coldness and at times a sudden 'intensity' encompasses the cell.Tales have been told of an event in the 1940s, when a prisoner locked-in 14D screamed throughout the night that a creature with glowing eyes was killing him. The next day guards found the man strangled to death in the cell. No one ever claimed responsibility for the convict's death, however the next day when doing head counts, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed seeing the dead convict in line with the other inmates, but only for a second before he vanished.
- Warden Johnston
Other stories have circulated that Warden Johnston, nicknamed "The Golden Rule Warden," also faced a bizarre event while showing some of his guests around the prison. According to the story, Johnston and his group heard someone sobbing from inside the prison walls, and then a cold wind whisked past the group. Johnston could never explain any reason for the occurances.
- Cell blocks A, B, and C
Visitors to cellblocks A and B. claim they have heard crying and moaning. A psychic visiting wrote that while in Block C he came upon a disruptive spirit name Butcher. Prison records show that another inmate in block C murdered Abie Maldowitz, a mob hitman known as Butcher.
- The Ghost of Al Capone
Al Capone, who spent his last years at Alcatraz with his health in decline from untreated syphilis, took up playing the banjo with a prison band. Fearing he would be killed if he spent his recreational time in the "yard," Capone received permission to spend recreation time practicing his banjo in the shower room.In recent years, a park ranger claimed he heard banjo music coming from the shower room. Not familiar with the history of Alcatraz, the ranger could not find a reason for the sound and documented the strange event. Other visitors and employees have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls.
- More Paranormal Reports
Other odd events experienced over the years include guards smelling smoke, but finding no fire; sounds of unexplained crying and moaning; unexplained cold spots in areas of the prison and claims of seeing ghosts of prisoners or military personnel.