Alcatraz Ghosts

The rocky island of Alcatraz (from the Spanish word for “pelican”) sits in the frigid and turbulent waters of San Francisco Bay between the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. From the native Miwok who thought of the island as a place of evil spirits and who used it as a place of exile for those who broke tribal rules, through its years as a fortress and eventually as a prison for the toughest criminals in the US justice system, it has had a reputation for being the site of many eerie and unsettling phenomena.


Although the local Natives (the Ohlone band of the Miwok Nation) did visit the island as a source of birds and eggs, it was also seen as being an abode of evil spirits. Those members of the tribe who broke rules or who were seen as disruptive to the overall well being of the tribe were frequently exiled there, and that sense of abandonment and foreboding carried over into the later history of the island as well. In spite of that reputation, the island also served as a hiding place for those Ohlone who wanted to escape from the Spanish efforts to convert them to Christianity.


The island was turned into a fortress by American forces after the Mexican War. The commander at the time was also responsible for the first use of the island as a modern prison, when several prisoners were incarcerated in the fortress’ basement before it was even completed, and from those earliest times the island was used as a military prison, receiving an official designation as such in 1867.


Alcatraz became a Federal civilian prison in 1933. It housed some of the worst prisoners in the system, in part because of its reputation as being invulnerable to escape. Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and many others were housed here. The tough conditions on “The Rock” were said to have driven many men insane, and their ghosts are said to be among the desolate souls forever imprisoned on the island, even after death.


Reports of ghosts on the island are legion. Among the most terrifying stories of the now abandoned prison are the sounds of men shrieking, chains and doors clattering and clanging, and the occasional appearance of a being called simply “The Thing,” a strange apparition with glowing red eyes. Black smoke is said to billow from an abandoned laundry room now and then; however, upon investigation, the smoke disappears without a trace after a few minutes and without leaving a trace of a fire. On foggy nights, there are even reports that the long-vanished lighthouse will appear in the mist, with its lights still flashing across the bay.


There is the story, reported by the skeptical prison warden himself, of how he was once startled by the sound of a woman weeping while he was leading a group of visitors on a tour of the prison. When the weeping stopped, a cold wind blew through and chilled all the members of the group. Guards reported seeing a man in mutton chop whiskers walk by and vanish, after which a Franklin stove that was burning nearby suddenly extinguished itself.


There are many, many more stories of the ghosts of Alcatraz. It has a reputation among some paranormal experts as being a kind of portal into another dimension; perhaps the long and dark history of the island is merely a reflection of that.

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