Location Description and History
After several years of laborious construction and several armament expansions, Alcatraz was set as the United States Western symbol of military strength. The new military fortress featured long-range iron cannons and four massive 36,000-pound, 15 inch Rodman guns capable of sinking mammoth hostile ships three miles away. Alcatraz's guns could fire 6,949 pounds of iron shot in one barrage. Though the fortress fired only one 400 pound canon round at an unidentified ship and missed, the Island had lived up to its self-given proclamation as an icon of U.S. military power.
Within a few decades the Island's role as a military fortress would start to fade away and its defenses would become obsolete by more modern weaponry standards. In 1861, Alcatraz started to receive Civil War prisoners because of its natural isolation created by the surrounding waters. In 1898, the Spanish-American war took the prisoner population from a mere twenty-six, to over four hundred and fifty. In 1906 following the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake, hundreds of civilian prisoners were transferred to the island for safe confinement. By 1912, a large cell house was constructed on the island's central crest and by the late 1920's, the three-story structure was nearly at capacity.
After the Civil War, Confederate sympathizers caught celebrating the death of President Lincoln were sent to Alcatraz. In 1868, the Army designated Alcatraz as a prison for military convicts and malcontents of society. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Indian chiefs and tribal leaders of Arizona and Alaska were incarcerated along with some of the worst thieves, deserters, rapists and repeated escapees from the Army. Alcatraz again became a disciplinary barracks for U.S. Army military incorrigibles, as well as a health resort when soldiers returning from the Spanish-American War convalesced there.
On the morning of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Alcatraz shook, but sustained little damage. That same year, four prisoners tried to paddle to the mainland on a butter vat, only to have strong currents bring them back. Driftwood was used for escape attempts in 1912, 1916, 1927 and a ladder was used during an escape attempt in 1929. All of the men were captured or surrendered, victims of the cruel currents and cold water. In 1911, Alcatraz was officially named the United States Disciplinary Barracks - an official Army prison which included both U.S. Army prisoners as well as German seamen who became prisoners of war.
The social upheaval of the 1920’s and 1930’s, and rampant crime sweeping America, provided Alcatraz with new life. Daring escapes, gang-related murders and mass rioting were a menace to an orderly prison. Attorney General Homer Cummings supported J. Edgar Hoover in creating a facility which would instill fear in would-be criminals by creating a place where prisoners could be safely controlled and could not escape. In 1933, the prison facility was formally turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During 1934, Alcatraz became an escape-proof, maximum security prison, where only the most hardened convicts were brought.
Many convicts found Alcatraz the end of their career in crime, as well as the end of their lives. For 29 years, the fog-enshrouded island, with its damp, cold winds and isolation, made Alcatraz one of America's safest prisons. The shell of steel and reinforced concrete confined ruthless men to a life of deprivation, rules and routines that proved almost intolerable. When one adds the fact that the convicts could hear the party boats pass by, and see some of the San Francisco city lights, it is little wonder that some preferred death to this kind of isolation. Failure to acquiesce to prison rules resulted in confinement in ‘D’ block, the treatment unit. Here, men could leave their four-by-eight cells only once in seven days for a brief, ten-minute shower.
Life was hard on Alcatraz, just the way that Warden Johnson envisioned it. His motto was "Take each day of your sentence, one day at a time. Don’t think how far you have to go, but how far you’ve come." For many prisoners, Alcatraz became synonymous with hell.
Some of the more haunted locations on Alcatraz appear to be the Warden’s house, the hospital, the laundry room and the cell block ‘C’ utility door where convicts Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard died during their escape attempt in 1946.
Most of the paranormal activity on Alcatraz seems
to occur around areas associated with the penitentiary’s worst tragedies.
One of them is the block ‘C’ utility corridor, cell blocks ‘A’ and ‘B’,
with the eeriest area centering around cell 14-D -where it is always cold.
According to May, gifted psychic Sylvia Brown, accompanied by a CBS news
team, investigated parts of Alcatraz. As Brown toured the prison hospital,
she picked up cards and notes tacked up on a wall, and the letter ‘S’.
A ranger confirmed that the ‘S’ probably stood for Robert Stroud who spent
a ten-and-a-half years in the hospital, in the very room where they were
among the guards, so the convict's pleas of being ‘attacked’ were ignored.The man’s screaming continued well into the night, until there was silence. The following day, the guards inspected the cell -the convict was dead, a horrible expression etched on his face and noticeable hand-marks around his throat. The autopsy revealed that the strangulation was not self-inflicted.
Some say he was strangled by a guard
who had enough of the man’s screaming, although no guard ever admitted
it, even to the other guards.
A number of guards from 1946 through 1963, experienced something out of the ordinary at one time or another. From the outer rim on the grounds to the deepest caverns, there was constant talk of people sobbing and moaning, horrible smells and cold spots. Groups of phantom prisoners and soldiers have also appeared in front of startled guards, guests and the families who lived on the island.
Sometimes the old lighthouse, long since destroyed, has appeared out of a dense fog, accompanied by a ghostly whistling sound, and a green flashing light which passed slowly around the island, just as if the lighthouse was still active. It would then vanish before the startled eyes of guards and visitors. Phantom cannon shots, gun shots and screams often sent seasoned guards running for cover, thinking that prisoners had escaped and obtained weapons. Each time, there was no explanation.
Documentary report only. No ghost hunt or investigation conducted.
Click on the thumbnails to view the larger image
Back to Haunted New Mexico
Back to SGHA Home