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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Visiting Alcatraz

   Alcatraz is a former maximum-security prison and also home to some of the city’s strangest ghost stories. In the late 1850s, it's first inmates were military prisoners who were put to work building a new prison that later became known as "The Rock." The U.S. Army used the island until 1933, until the Federal Government stepped in, and decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary to deal with the most incorrigible inmates.It's a small surprise once the government got "The Rock" built that they wanted to use it to make money, not be used by the United States Army. That wasn't nearly as lucrative. Alcatraz was designed to break rebellious prisoners by putting them in a structured, monotonous routine until their release. Prisoners only were given four basic things - food, clothing, shelter and medical care.Anything beyond that had to be earned. Famous criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis and Arthur "Doc" Barker, spent time in Alcatraz. Mobsters in other prisons often managed to manipulate special privileges from guards, but not at Alcatraz.
Because of the huge cost to refurbish the prison it was closed in 1963. Later the island and parts of the prison were reopened by the Parks Services for daily public tours.The fact that Alcatraz was built on an island and kept so isolated from public view, caused tales of inmates being tortured and of their bitter spirits coming back to haunt the halls of Alcatraz began to circulate. One of the areas which some claim is the most active with paranormal activity is a utility corridor where inmates Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were plummeted with bullets after a failed prison escape. It is there that in 1976 a night security guard reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from inside. Cell 14D, one of the 'hole' cells is believed by some to be very active with spirits. Visitors and employees have reported feeling a raw coldness and at times a sudden 'intensity' encompasses the cell.  There's a story told of an event in the 1940s, when a prisoner locked-in 14D screamed throughout the night that a creature with glowing eyes was killing him. The next day guards found the man strangled to death in the cell. No one ever claimed responsibility for the convict's death, however the next day when doing head counts, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed seeing the dead convict in line with the other inmates, but only for a second before he vanished. Also, a Warden faced a bizarre event while showing some of his guests around the prison. Warden Johnston and his group heard someone sobbing from inside the prison walls, and then a cold wind whisked past the group. Johnston could never explain any reason for the occurrences visitors to cell blocks A and B. claim they have heard crying and moaning. A psychic visiting wrote that while in Block C he came upon a disruptive spirit name Butcher. Prison records show that another inmate in block C murdered Abie Maldowitz, a mob hit man known as Butcher. Al Capone, who spent his last years at Alcatraz with his health in decline from untreated syphilis, took up playing the banjo with a prison band. Fearing he would be killed if he spent his recreational time in the "yard," Capone received permission to spend recreation time practicing his banjo in the shower room. We've all seen the movies. Is the shower room really a lot safer all considering? That's just my opinion, but I'm not a prisoner doing time, so what do I know? There were no special facilities for physical tortures at Alcatraz. The hooks, the electric shock treatments, the medical experiments, and other horrors found in other world prisons of the time (and, sadly, still to this day) were abhorred by Warden Johnston and the BOP. Johnston is rightly credited with eliminating these punishments in the California prison system's most popular and safest method. He did not stand for them at Alcatraz. But he did allow for other torturous techniques with the inmates. Throwing prisoners in "The Hole" was the  "safe technique" for the security guards, as it left no bruises. There was also; what was called "force-feeding". This involved forcing a rubber tube down the throat of a convict on hunger fast and forcing him to ingest a mixture of milk, sugar and eggs . A blackjack is a small rubber-covered, lead club. Their possession and use is illegal. Nevertheless, senior officers used these at times to knock prisoners unconscious.
      In recent years, a park ranger claimed he heard banjo music coming from the shower room. Not familiar with the history of Alcatraz, the ranger could not find a reason for the sound and documented the strange event. Other visitors and employees have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls. Other odd events experienced over the years include guards smelling smoke, but finding no fire; sounds of unexplained crying and moaning; unexplained cold spots in areas of the prison and claims of seeing ghosts of prisoners or military personnel.Could it be Alcatraz is haunted? Ghost hunters have said they feel parts of the island and Visitors to the island often claim to see apparitions walking the cell blocks, and sometimes hear voices emanating from what was once the cafeteria. This would be a cool place to visit. There are so many ghostly encounters and stories told about this famous prison; by guards, prisoners and visitors. Even though they were there for a reason, no one would be happy at all about being behind bars; making the tales of inmates being tortured and of their bitter spirits coming back to haunt the halls of Alcatraz more feasible.

 According to records, there were eight people murdered by inmates at Alcatraz. Five men committed suicide.  Fifteen died from natural illnesses. Also, one little girl died on the Island.The Island had a morgue, but no autopsies were ever performed there. Instead, the dead bodies were brought back to the mainland and released to the San Fransisco County Coroner. So that's at least 29 people who died there, on record. Most were prisoners, miserable souls confined in 5'9" cells, and at least some of them probably walk haunt Alcatraz to this day.
     One lost soul is believed to be Yvuonne Oakes, the 13 year old daughter of occupants during the 1969-1971 Native American Alcatraz Occupation Period. Yvuonne tragically fell to her death in January 1970. She was the only known casualty of the Native American Alcatraz occupation period. She fell down 3 flights of stairs to her death. How did she fall down 3 flights of stairs? Was she playing and stumbled down stairs? Was she perhaps looking for her mother? Perhaps she simply wanted to show her mother a new picture she had drawn. But she never did. Does she still wander the hallways looking for her mother?  Does she haunt the stairway where she died?
    Perhaps the inmates that were murdered wander the prison with vengeance in their very souls. Do the guards killed during a riot haunt the hallways? Still patrolling? Are their still lost souls connected to their jail cells, confined for eternity? What an interesting history and most likely a pretty haunted stop.
 Stay tuned for the next Coolest Place in the United States to Visit! If you are into ghosts and paranormal activity of course. It is definitely not for the faint of heart!

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