Alcatraz is a small island (of about 9 hectares) located in San Francisco Bay about 2.4kms from San Francisco, California. The island was originally developed with facilities for a lighthouse but was a prison from 1933 – 1963. Alcatraz Penitentiary was designed not for reforming prisoners, but for punishment and housed prisoners who had caused trouble at other prisons throughout the US. Most of the original prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers and over the 29 years it ran there were some famous prisoners housed there including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda (a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954), Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate). At the time of Acatraz’s closure the prison housed 250 inmates and 60 family members and staff resided on the island.
Today the island is a tourist attraction and can be reached by a short ferry ride from San Francisco. The prison is the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the United States but the chief attraction is the now the abandoned and infamous Alcatraz prison. The main prison building, including the dining room and library, the morgue and entrance buildings remain intact and the ruins of several other buildings can also be seen. Audio tours are available through the grounds and main buildings as well as the now derelict shells of the wardens house, officers club and industry buildings. The remains of the parade and recreation yards can also be visited.
It is claimed that no prisoner ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz (also known as “The Rock”) although 36 men did try over the years. Of these, 23 were caught alive and the other escapees were shot dead or drowned. Many other deaths were also recorded on the island. 8 prisoners were murdered by other inmates; a guard was murdered, 5 inmates were killed in random attacks and five more prisoners committed suicide, Some of these souls are now thought to haunt the prison. Native American legend talk about evils spirits being on the island long before the prison was there. Bones and artefacts unearthed by archaeologists on the island have indicated that it might have served as a burial ground for Native American outcasts.
Some consider Alcatraz to be one of the most haunted places in America and it has been the site of many paranormal investigations. Over the years there has been a wide range of activity reported by prisoners, staff and tourists. The activity includes people being touched, locked doors opening and shutting, whispers and music being heard, cold spots being felt, a sobbing woman, unexplained footsteps and moaning have all allegedly been heard as well as apparitions and shadows being seen. One prisoner apparently screamed for hours one night after seeing glowing red eyes in his cell. It is alleged that he was found dead the following morning with a purple face, bulging eyes, and unidentified strangle marks around his throat. Most of the activity has been noted in the prison although the Wardens house was also reputedly haunted. There have also been many claims of sightings of a group of Native American men who disappear when approached. Of course officials from Alcatraz today refute any claim that the island is haunted.
As a paranormal investigator Alcatraz Island has always been on my “wish-list” of places to investigate so while in San Francisco it was pleased to have had the opportunity to visit. It was an imposing sight in San Francisco Bay and as our ferry neared it I couldn’t help but wonder how the men who had been sentenced to a prison term in this penitentiary felt as they neared the monolithic concrete structure perched above the precarious cliffs of Alcatraz Island. Upon arrival the buildings were cold, unwelcoming and devoid of any comfort. At times I felt as if I was in a surreal computer generated world and anyone who has played Riven would feel at home on this island. Seeing a white haired grandmother-type woman wearing a park rangers uniform which included a 9mm Glock handgun holstered to her hip while handing pamphlets to children only added to this otherworldly sensation! There were many tourists on the island which made in impossible to hold any type of serious investigation but I was pleased to have spent a very fascinating afternoon exploring the buildings and grounds. As late afternoon fell the sea mist rolled onto the island. Within a few minutes Alcatraz was clocked in a mist so thick that we could not see more than a few meters of the ocean surrounding the island. The island felt insular and very desolate when cut off from any sign of the mainland. A foghorn sounded in the bay every few minutes and this again reminded me of being in some weird computer generated game. It was with great reluctance that I joined all the other tourists who boarded the ferry to return to the reality of bustling San Francisco. It was dusk and I would have loved to have spent the night in the deserted buildings….