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The 22-acre island of Alcatraz was named in 1775 by the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, who charted the San Francisco Bay. He called the island "La Isla de los Alcatraces", and although the original translation is debated, it roughly equates to "Island of the Pelicans." Over the years, it has served as a military outpost, a fort, a military prison, a federal prison, and finally a national park. During its history there have been many deaths on Alcatraz, including 45 Civil War soldiers, 8 guards and inmates murdered by other prisoners, 5 suicides, and 15 inmates that died of natural causes. With the beatings, torture, hate and sorrow it has seen, this place has earned the reputation of having many ghostly inhabitants.

Building 64

This building is one of the first sights when stepping off of the boat for the Alcatraz tour. It originally served as military barracks, and then later as abatements for the prison guards and their families. Building 64 is attached to few, if any, accounts of the horrible prison life that Alcatraz was known for. In fact, children who had lost a toy out of a window would lower a basket so that one of the prisoner-workers on the dock could help them retrieve it - quite a contrast to the tales from inside the cellhouse! Still, Building 64 has been the site of some paranormal activity. A security guard that works for the park system described staying there at night as "creepy". While spending the night in the building, the rangers' audio snapped into life, blaring a slow, garbled version of the tourist presentation.

The Sally Port

People were first imprisoned on Alcatraz in 1859, when eleven soldiers were brought to the island by the fort's first permanent garrison. They were kept in the basement of the Sally Port building, which lacked even the smallest of comforts for human living. During the Civil War, Alcatraz was used as a military prison for the worst criminals: rapists, murderers, thieves, deserters, and those accused of high treason. Some Confederate prisoners were kept here as well. Alcatraz was also used by the military to imprison Hopi, Apache, and Modoc Native-Americans captured during the various Indian wars. Many of these men died on "the Rock", and their spirits may continue to linger here.


This photo looks down "Broadway", the central walkway in the cellblock between B and C blocks, toward "Times Square", which is under the clock at the entrance to the cafeteria. New prisoners were marched down Broadway when they first arrived, to the taunts of the other prisoners looking out of their cells. There are several specifically haunted sites within the cellblock, but park workers often report strange sounds echoing through the empty building as they walk down Broadway: coughs, laughs, whistles, the playing of a harmonica, and even the slamming of cell doors (only the old doors of cellblock A open and close individually).

Escape from Alcatraz

Nothing haunted here, but on the morning of June 12, 1962, three prisoners remained in bed instead of standing up at the gates of their cells. They were Clarence Anglin, John Anglin and Frank Morris. Guards found that there were actually dummies in their beds, and the three prisoners had escaped. Even though the prison claimed that the men drowned, their bodies were never found. This is the utility corridor that the trio used to climb to the roof. Their escape was made famous by the movie "Escape from Alcatraz" starring Clint Eastwood.

The Prison Hospital

This stairway leads up to the prison hospital, which was the place where several prisoners died over the years. The National Park staff has reported odd sounds floating down the stairway, and a few have even seen hazy apparitions. The hospital is closed off to the general tour, but more than once a ranger has heard voices and movement and dashed upstairs to escort trespassers out of the hospital area, only to find it deserted.

The Cafeteria

Warden Johnston, who oversaw the facility from 1933 to 1948, understood that he would be housing some of the most dangerous men in America. Since many prison riots had historically been started because of the quality (or lack thereof) in prison food, he wanted to make the Alcatraz cafeteria one of the best in the prison system. That he did - the menu was diverse, and prisoners dined on salads, fresh fruit, tasty entrees, and desserts. This is the cafeteria where the prisoners took there meals, but it wasn't without incident during the prison years. Today, when the tourists are gone and the cell block is quiet, park rangers have heard the muffled sounds of voices and the clanking of silverware coming from the empty Cafeteria.

Solitary Confinement 14

There are more tales of paranormal activity associated with solitary confinement cell 14 than anywhere else on the Rock. The inmates called solitary confinement "the hole", because there was only one small window in the door, which could be closed to seal off the cell completely. The single light was supposed to remain on, but was often turned off by the guards to intimidate the prisoner further. A hole in the floor was used for a toilet, and other than that the cell was bare. There are rumors of suicides taking place in cell 14, along with the sighting of glowing eyes in the darkness of the cell. It was the only place where we felt anything odd at Alcatraz during our visit. There was one particular place in the cell where (separately) we both felt light-headed, a little dizzy, and the room seemed to move.

The Prison Exercise Yard

On Alcatraz, the ability to go out to the yard was considered a privilege that had to be earned. It was very desirable for the prisoners, because it allowed them a bit more freedom out in the fresh Bay air, and was also a time for socializing. At the end of the exercise period, the guards would instruct the prisoners to line up for counting, and the number at the end of period had to match the count taken at the beginning. Several times the guards noticed a larger count at the end, and when examining the group closer, found that some of the men were dressed in strange uniforms, seemingly military. The extras would always have disappeared when a recount was done. These ghosts were attributed to the group of Civil War soldiers that were stationed on Alcatraz, 45 of whom died on the island.

Deathplace of Prison Rioters

This photograph is inside the cell block C utility door where three convicts, Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard, were killed in the corridor from bullet wounds and shrapnel during their escape attempt in 1946. They had taken several guards hostage, assassinating two and wounding many more during the failed escape. Because of their violent death, the restless spirits of the three have been reported numerous times at the utility door.

San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz

One of the things that kept prisoners in check was the long swim that they faced upon a successful escape. Hypothermia would likely set in quickly during the mile-and-a-half swim, and the occasional shark that swam into the bay might find a swimmer to be a tasty treat. Currents would also be a problem - they race in and out of the Golden Gate at speeds that sometimes exceed 8 miles per hour, more than twice as fast as the quickest person can swim. Several people have made the treacherous swim and survived, though, which makes you wonder whether the three escapees in 1962 could have accomplished the feat.

The Warden's House

This structure was built in 1929 for the Commandant back when Alcatraz was a military prison. When the island was converted to a Federal Corrections Institute, this house served as the residence for the Warden of the prison. The house was destroyed by fire in 1970 and now only the shell is left standing. Strange apparat ions have been reported in and around the house, beginning back when it was still in use and the prison was open. Reportedly, a Christmas party was being held in the 1940's when the ghostly figure of a man appeared about midnight in a room where several men were playing poker. He was wearing a dark, double-breasted suit, a hat with a brim, and had "mutton-chop" sideburns. A cigar was hanging out of the corner of his mouth. When the guests noticed him, an icy chill filled the room, and the fire in the room's Ben Franklin stove was extinguished. The lights flicked on and off several times, and the room quickly emptied out.

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