Alcatraz Prison Mysteries: Hauntings and Attempted Escapes at Alcatraz Island
There are many rumors, legends, and fantasies that surround Alcatraz. All of us have heard about the prison and some of the infamous escape attempts. There are so many mysteries surrounding the prison that may never be answered. Although one of the most mysterious unknowns is whether or not the legendary prison was truly haunted. The answer may be unknown, but where the stories stem from, is not.
Some of these ghost stories seem far-fetched, but as most stories, there is always a grain of truth behind every lie. There are more mysteries than can fill a short essay on such a grand legendary place. Here are just a few that could cause even a two hundred pound muscle man fear stepping foot on the historical island.
History of Alcatraz
The island was originally named La Isla de Los Alcatraces by Spanish explorers during their discovery of the island in 1775. The name can be translated as "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 half away from San Fransisco, 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 Fransisco. At the time they had a great need to protect San Fransisco 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 large 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 afterwards they turned it into a military prison during the Civil War. Although after the Civil War, the island became quiet for over thirty years before it became the most tightly kept prison we know. The prisoners that were placed 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 twenty-six inmates prior to this, but grew to four hundred and fifty that very year. It quickly became notorious as the harshest prison ever known to American soil.
They were given the bare necessities: food, water, a roof over their head, a shower, and a doctor. Often times the notorious punishment of being tied to a large iron ball on the end of a chain was actually one of the punishments 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.
Truth is, much of this was for show. Although some prisoners were treated very poorly, some of the more reliable prisoners were given such duties as the 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 only been open for thirty years. The island was abandoned until 1972, when Congress made a decision 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 very rich history that should be remembered. Today, if you want to see the island, you can get a ferry off of Pier 33, which is located near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.
Ghosts That Haunt Alcatraz
Before even the toughest criminals had landed there, Native Americans had found the island. They instantly felt that there were bad spirits, and had even brought some of their own people here as punishment. If their crimes were really bad, they would leave them on Alcatraz permanently. They believed that if left on the island, they would die there and be tortured by the evil spirits that haunted the island for eternity. It is interesting, even before it became one of the toughest penitentiaries, Native Americans used the island for punishment.
Fast forward a couple hundred years during a time once the prison closed down, Alcatraz became a notorious 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, and these evil spirits are centuries years old.
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 were only given bread, water, a hole to go 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 believe 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 and Other Hauntings
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.
If Alcatraz is truly haunted, most people believe it is by some of the ex-prisoners who died there. One of the most famous ghosts being that of Al Capone. They claim to see white orbs around his old jail cell and hear banjo music, which is what he played shortly 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.
Probably one of the more peculiar supposed hauntings is by that of Abie Maldowitz. He was imprisoned as a hit man and otherwise was not well known. Many psychics have been drawn to Alcatraz, so it is no wonder that psychic Sylvia Brown was drawn 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 that Abie Maldowitz was killed there. Maldowitz's nickname was "Butcher."
No one will truly know whether or not the place is haunted. 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
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