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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Visiting the ghosts of Alcatraz Island

I've been busy with Weird Fresno lately. First last week I traveled down south to ride the coasters at Magic Mountain and to explore some of the legends associated with the place. And then later that week I ventured to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. A place where some say it's one of the most haunted places in the United States.

The only way to get to The Rock is by ferry (though I imagine back in the day robbing a bank would get you there). After a twenty minute or so ride we docked at the island and after were briefed on safety rules by a park ranger. After that we were allowed to freely roam the park for as long as we liked.

After briefly touring the grounds I decided to head to the building that housed the cell block (the area where the prisoners were held) and where most of the activity takes place. I have to admit I had some preconceived notions about the place given what I had read and seen on TV.

I had assumed the cell block would be a large, dark and depressing place. But when I first walked in, it really wasn't that. Sure I had goosebumps that I was at Alcatraz, but as I started to look around I noticed how much light was in the building.

Obviously it still had an air of sadness to it being one of the toughest prisons ever in America, but I guess I had just hyped it up in my head to be this desolate place that time had forgot.

The shower area where it's said that you can hear the ghost of
Al Capone playing the banjo.

That being said I headed into the cell block and entered the shower room where you can pick up the audio tour devices. This location is one of the known hot spots of activity. It's said that when notorious mobster Al Capone did time in Alcatraz he received permission to practice his banjo in the shower area as he was afraid he would be attacked if he practiced in the prison rec yard. Now it's said that you can sometimes hear banjo music coming from the shower area, even though it's not part of the audio tour. Interesting side note to this. Several years ago my mother and sister went to Alcatraz on a field trip for school. They didn't ask me about any of the ghosts at that time and I didn't really think of telling them the stories I knew. As both my mother and sister were in the shower area they both heard banjo music and thought it was part of the audio tour but still heard it when the removed their headphones. It was only when they told me what happened later on that I told them about how Al Capone was said to haunt the area.

The laundry area which is next to the showers.

After exiting the shower area I entered the main cell block. From 1934 to 1963 there were 1545 inmates here (some were repeat offenders) and some of the more famous inmates were Al Capone, Robert Stroud the "Birdman of Alcatraz" and George "Machine Gun" Kelly among others. The cell block had 4 sections, blocks A, B, C and D. Blocks A, B and C were general population where Block D was used for isolation. Visitors to cell blocks A & B have claimed to hear moaning and crying coming from the area even though it wasn't part of the audio tour nor were there any visible signs of where the sounds could be coming from. At cell block C it's said that a visiting psychic came across a spirit that went by the name of "Butcher". According to prison records a Abie Maldowitz was murdered in C block and he was a mob hit man who was known as Butcher.

This isn't the only spirit that resides in cell block C. In 1946 three inmates, Bernard Coy, Marvin Hubbard and Joe Cretzer, were killed in the utility corridor in cell block C during a failed prison escape. When the island became a park night security guards have sometimes heard unexplained clanging sounds coming inside from the utility corridor. The guards would open the door to the corridor to see what was making the noise but find nothing. Upon closing the door the noises would start back up again.

The access door to the utility corridor on cell block C. This is where
three inmates died after a failed prison escape attempt.

The final area to have paranormal activity is cell block D, the isolation ward. Alcatraz was already known for housing the most difficult prisoners, ones who were trouble at other prisons. But the ones who were difficult at Alcatraz were placed in isolation. Upon entering this cell visitors have reported feeling what they could only describe as a "raw coldness" and some sort of intensity that filled the cell. Visitors weren't the only ones to feel something strange in 14D, some of the park rangers have reported about the strangeness that seems to encompass the cell. One stated that the cell always felt cold, even colder than the other three isolation cells. They went on to say that even when the cell block was warmed by the sun and temperatures would reach around 70 degrees, 14D would still be so cold that you would need a jacket in there to be warm.

The door on the right is the entrance to the infamous 14D

There's a story that sometime in the 1940's a prisoner was locked up in 14D and was heard constantly screaming throughout the entire night that there was a creature with glowing eyes in there with him and that it was trying to kill him. The next morning when the guards went to release the prisoner they found him strangled to death in the cell. But it gets even stranger. When the headcount was done the next day, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed to have seen the dead convict in the line, but would disappear after only a few seconds.

Photo taken from the interior of 14D looking towards the outside.

As I wandered Alcatraz I snapped many photos, hoping something would appear on camera. Unfortunately there wasn't anything out of the ordinary, not even the obligatory dust orbs. As for trying to do any voice recordings, I gave up on this as soon as I saw the large group I was with. That and all the reflective surfaces made any possible EVP virtually impossible. Going here I knew that an actual ghost investigation wouldn't be realistic (is looking for ghosts ever realistic?), but I had hoped for a bit more than just some picture taking. I know Alcatraz does offer a night tour, but I don't know how much less crowded that would be, if at all. Plus there's nothing to say whatever ghosts are there will come out at night as opposed to the day. But I definitely know the creep factor would be way amped up. That alone might be worth the admission.

It's hard for me to say if Alcatraz is truly haunted. I didn't go there looking for ghosts specifically, more of to experience the place and legends. Definitely was an experience though. Looking at all the cells, and realizing that men spent years in something smaller than my apartment bathroom was an eye opener. Plus I was AT Alcatraz, everyone knows about it and at least some of it's history. For all of the places I have explored in the past year, Alcatraz has to be the coolest. But if the stories are true about Alcatraz, it seems that even though it's no longer a working prison some of the prisoners still are imprisoned there.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Great story Michael. I haven't been there since I was a kid. Now I want to go back after reading this.