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I went on a tour of Alcatraz in March of 2000 when my friend Gwen (from EMU) and I visited San Francisco.
Alcatraz was used as a prison from 1850 - 1963. Actually, it was sort of used as a prison even before the military started using it in 1850...Native American tribes used it as a prison (or isolation place) to punish tribe members who violated the tribal laws. I'll give a brief history of the island, but if you're looking for more detail check out the National Park Service's Alcatraz page.
Alcatraz has a very haunted history. Some say that the Native Americans avoided the island because it contained "evil spirits". I'm sure that bad, law breaking tribe members who were sent there started this legend.
It seemed that bad things started happening on the island soon after the military decided to use it as a fort/prison in the 1850's. In 1857 a landslide killed two workers who were excavating along the roadway between the wharf and the guardhouse.
In 1859, the first Army prisoners were brought to Alcatraz. By 1861 the island was designated as the official military prison for the entire Department of the Pacific, which contained most areas west of the Rocky Mountains. Prison life was rough. There was no running water or heat in any of the cells. The prisoners had to sleep right next to each other on cold, stone floors. Also, there were no sanitary facilities, and therefore diseases ran rampant!
By 1934, Alcatraz became an escape-proof maximum security prison. Some of the most dangerous, hardened criminals were incarcerated here. Some of the most famous, well known criminals who were sent to Alcatraz were: Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert Stroud (The Birdman), and Alvin Karpis.
Life on Alcatraz was very difficult. Many of the prisoners nicknamed the prison "Hellcatraz". The prisoners daily lives consisted of strict routines. Also, the prisoners could hear party boats pass by and see some of the lights across the bay in San Francisco, which was a reminder of life outside the walls of Alcatraz - it was torture for them!
There were a number of escape attempts and deaths here. There were thirty-six prisoners involved in escape attempts, which left many prisoners and guards injured. While the island was used as a prison, twenty-eight people died there (eight were murdered by other inmates, there were five suicides, and fifteen people died from illnesses). It is believed that some of these spirits still haunt the island.
Today many visitors and park reangers experience cell doors opening and closing, loud footsteps, clanking metal, loud crashing sounds, terrible screams, horrible smells, mysterious smoke/fog, sobbing, and intense feelings of being watched. Also, several apparitions have been seen. The most haunted locations on Alcatraz are 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 bloody escape attempt in 1946. However, the most haunted area of Alcatraz is the ‘D’ cell block, where prisoners were punished by solitary confinement. This area is also referred to as "The Hole". Cell Block D was the area that really seemed to bother me the most when Gwen and I toured the building.
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