During the day, the old prison is a bustling place, filled with tour guides and visitors... but at night, the building is filled with the inexplicable. Many believe that the energy of those who came to serve time on the Rock still remains, that Alcatraz is an immense haunted house... a place where strange things can and do happen today!
Every visitor who arrives by boat on Alcatraz follows the same path once walked by the criminals who came to do time on the Rock. The tourists who come here pass through the warden’s office and the visiting room and eventually enter the cell house. After passing the double steel doors, a visitor can see that just past C Block. If they look opposite the visiting room, they will find a metal door that looks as though it was once welded shut. Although the tour guides don’t usually mention it, behind that door if the utility corridor where Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were killed by grenades and bullets in 1946.
It was also behind this door where a night watchman heard strange, clanging sounds in 1976. He opened the door and peered down the dark corridor, shining his flashlight on the maze of pipes and conduits. He could see nothing and there were no sounds. When he closed the door, the noises started again. Again, the door was opened up but there was still nothing that could be causing the sounds. The night watchman did not believe in ghosts, so he shut the door again and continued on his way. Some have wondered if the eerie noises may have been the reason why the door was once welded shut? Since that time, this utility corridor has come to be recognized as one of the most haunted spots in the prison.
Other night watchmen who have patrolled this cell house, after the last of the tourist boats have left for the day, say that they have heard the sounds of what appear to be men running coming the from the upper tiers. Thinking that an intruder is inside the prison, the watchmen have investigated the sounds, but always find nothing.
One Park Service employee stated that she had been working one rainy afternoon when the sparse number of tourists were not enough to keep all of the guides busy. She went for a walk in front of A Block and was just past the door that led down to the dungeons when she heard a loud scream from the bottom of the stairs. She ran away without looking to see if anyone was down there. When asked why she didn’t report the incident, she replied "I didn’t dare mention it because the day before, everyone was ridiculing another worker who reported hearing men’s voices coming from the hospital ward and when he checked the ward, it was empty."
Several of the guides and rangers have also expressed a strangeness about one of the "hole" cells, number 14D. "There’s a feeling of sudden intensity that comes from spending more than a few minutes around that cell," one of them said. Another guide also spoke up about that particular cell. "That cell, 14D, is always cold. It’s even colder than the other three dark cells. Sometimes it gets warm out here - so hot that you have to take your jacket off. The temperature inside the cell house can be in the 70’s, yet 14D is still cold... so cold that you need a jacket if you spend any time in it."
Oddly, the tour guides were not the only ones to have strange experiences in that particular cell. A number of former guards from the prisons also spoke of some pretty terrifying incidents that took place near the "holes" and in particular, Cell 14D.
During the guard’s stint in the middle 1940’s, an inmate was locked in the cell for some forgotten infraction. According to the officer, the inmate began screaming within seconds of being locked in. He claimed that some creature with "glowing eyes" was locked in with him. As tales of a ghostly presence wandering the nearby corridor were a continual source of practical jokes among the guards, no one took the convict’s cries of being "attacked" very seriously.
The man’s screaming continued on into the night until finally, there was silence. The following day, guards inspected the cell and they found the convict dead. A horrible expression had been frozen onto the man’s face and there were clear marks of hands around his throat! The autopsy revealed that the strangulation could not have been self-inflicted. Some believed that he might have been choked by one of the guards, who had been fed up with the man’s screaming, but no one ever admitted it.
A few of the officers blamed something else for the man’s death. They believed that the killer had been the spirit of a former inmate. To add to the mystery, on the day following the tragedy, several guards who were performing a head count noticed that there were too many men in the lineup. Then, at the end of the line, they saw the face of the convict who had recently been strangled in the "hole"! As they all looked on in stunned silence, the figure abruptly vanished.
If, as many believe, ghosts return to haunt the places where they suffered traumatic experiences when they were alive, then Alcatraz must be loaded with spirits.
According to sources, a number of guards who served between 1946 and 1963 experienced strange happenings on Alcatraz. From the grounds of the prison to the caverns beneath the buildings, there was often talk of people sobbing and moaning, inexplicable smells, cold spots and spectral apparitions. Even guests and families who lived on the island claimed to occasionally see the ghostly forms of prisoners and even phantom soldiers. Phantom gunshots were known to send seasoned guards cringing on the ground in the belief that the prisoners had escaped and had obtained weapons. There was never an explanation. A deserted laundry room would sometimes fill with the smell of smoke, even though nothing was burning. The guards would be sent running from the room, only to return later and find that the air was clear.
Even Warden Johnston, who did not believe in ghosts, once encountered the unmistakable sound of a person sobbing while he accompanied some guests on a tour of the prison. He swore that the sounds came from inside of the dungeon walls. The strange sounds were followed by an ice-cold wind that swirled through the entire group. He could offer no explanation for the weird events.
As the years have passed, ghost hunters, authors, crime buffs and curiosity-seekers have visited the island and many of them have left with feelings of strangeness. Perhaps those who experience the "ghostly side" of Alcatraz most often are the national park service employees who sometimes spend many hours here alone. For the most part, the rangers claim to not believe in the supernatural but occasionally, one of them will admit that weird things happen here that they cannot explain.
According to one park ranger, he was in one of the cell houses one morning, near the shower room, and heard the distinctive sound of banjo music coming from the room. He could not explain it --- but many who know some of the hidden history of Alcatraz can. In his last days at the prison, Al Capone often hid in the shower room with his banjo. Rather than risk going out into the prison yard, where he feared for his life thanks to his deteriorating mental state, Capone received permission to stay inside and practice with his instrument.
And perhaps he sits there still, this lonesome and broken spirit, still plucking at the strings of a spectral banjo that vanished decades ago. For on occasion, tour guides and rangers, who walk the corridors of the prison alone, still claim to hear and an occasional tune echoing through the abandoned building. Is it Al Capone?
Or could it be merely another of the countless ghosts who continue to haunt this place, year after year.....?
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