The Rock – Alcatraz
The Americans have the right idea when it comes to prisons. Build a prison on a rock in the middle of the sea and leave the buggers there to rot. Why do we not do this sort of thing, too?
Alcatraz Island (originally named La Isla de los Alcatraces – ‘the Island of the Pelicans’), sits out in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It’s a long swim to shore (1.5 miles) and the sea is rather hazardous and unforgiving, so once you’re out on ‘The Rock’, you’re there until you decide to behave yourself.
Alcatraz has housed prisoners from as far back as 1861. The main prison block was completed in 1912 and has held famous inmates such as Robert Stroud (known as the Bird Man of Alcatraz, even though he wasn’t actually allowed to keep any birds), Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. That’s quite some guest list.
Life Behind Bars
Now, of course, the prison is no longer in use by the living, but the dead are apparently keen to stay in residence.
Apart from the fifteen inmates who died of natural causes within the prison’s maximum security walls, eight people were murdered at Alcatraz by other inmates and five others committed suicide. Although the prison is brimming with ghost stories, here are a few of my favourites to whet your appetite:
Al Capone was sent to Alcatraz in 1934 for income tax evasion. He became ill with neurosyphilis which had apparently been left untreated. His mental health began to suffer and he became too frightened to go out and mix with the other inmates during recreational periods, so he was allowed to sit in the shower room and learn to play the banjo. Even though the prison is now disused, people still report hearing the sound of a banjo being played when they are near the shower room.
Al Capone: Still practising the banjo?
Cell 14D is what is known as a ‘hole’ cell. Unruly prisoners were kept in ‘hole’ cells for up to 19 days at a time in complete isolation. A pretty miserable existence, I’m sure you will agree. Still, ‘hole’ cells were one up from ‘strip’ cells where an inmate had to survive in the dark with no clothing and meagre food rations.
Cell 14D has a curious legend attached to it. It is alleged that in the 1940’s a prisoner was thrown into the cell for some misdemeanour, but as soon as the door was closed he immediately began to scream the place down, shouting that there was some kind of creature in the cell with him with glowing eyes and it was trying to kill him. The screaming carried on throughout the night but the next morning the inmate was… strangely silent. When the guards checked on him, he was found dead. He had been strangled. Now, this in itself is rather eerie (unless you assume one of the guards had had enough of the prisoner screeching all night and decided to silence him) but the next morning when the guards carried out a head count the guards found they had one too many prisoners. A few of the guards said they had seen the ghost of the screaming man in amongst the other inmates but the phantom quickly vanished.
Hell Hole: a solitary confinement cell
Considering all the terrible things that must have happened at Alcatraz over the years, it is perhaps not surprising that the sounds of crying and moaning are often heard and cell doors can sometimes be heard clanging shut on their own. Guards and police officers have also reported seeing and hearing strange apparitions while they guard the deserted prison.
If you are lucky enough to go on a tour of Alcatraz, you will be walking in the steps of its many former prisoners, some of whom were fortunate to leave after they finished their time and some of whom… never managed to leave at all.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010