“THE ROCK” SAN FRANCISCO, CA. HISTORY           In 1775, Spanish explorers surveying what is now San Francisco Bay, gave to a small, deserted and barren island within that region the name La Isla de los Alcatraces, or "Island of Pelicans". Native Americans came to regard the island as one that contained evil spirits and stayed clear of it entirely. (ed.- Alcatraz appeared first as a barren white rock. The white color was a result of pelican droppings)         As hostilities escalated between the U.S. and Mexico, the military deemed the island to be of intrinsic value as a stronghold against potential attack and a prison in which to house captured enemies. The fast-moving and treacherous currents surrounding the island also added to the concept of an impenetrable, yet inescapable fortress.         So it was in 1853 that construction of the citadel began. Some six years later the project was completed and the first military prisoners were welcomed to the location that would much later be infamously  termed, "The Rock".   "The Citadel"   Guards at "The Rock" circa 1859          By 1861, the fortress would soon begin receiving Confederate Civil War prisoners. The treatment of these soldiers, conspirators and sympathizers was, in a word, barbaric. Cells were overcrowded, disease was a constant danger and luxuries such as clean water, bathrooms and heat were not afforded to its imprisoned occupants.          When the war had finally ended, so too did the need for the fortress. The prison was another story however. It remained functional if not endurable for those incarcerated there. As time went on, many of the very worst that society had to offer eventually called Alcatraz Island home. Worsening the overcrowded conditions and hostile environment that already existed was the decision in the late 1800s to send many Native American tribal leaders unwilling to cede their rights and land to the white man.          1898 saw Alcatraz become a holding compound for Spanish-American War prisoners and by 1900 it was again used pretty much exclusively as a military prison. The turn of the century also brought about a renovation of the prison, which by then had continued to fall into disrepair with prison crews performing much of that effort. While not yet anything near a resort spot, the prison's structural integrity was vastly improved.          The regulations - while quite stringent and unyielding - had not yet reached the hard-core status it would in more contemporary times. Many convicts even performed domestic tasks for military families on-site. There were a few escape attempts, but they were either aborted in-progress or ended in drowning or eventual capture. By the 1920s, the structure again suffered the fate it had previously as the property began to denigrate. Only a few personnel and the hardest of military prisoners inhabited the site.          However it was in the next decade that Alcatraz would gain its greatest notoriety and prominence both as a landmark and a symbol of unforgiving destiny. The 1930s saw the prison under the control of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and by extension J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. A concept was born to make this most isolated and desolate of locations into the ultimate deterrent to the unbridled surge of crime gripping the nation at this time. An inescapable, unsolvable top-security prison no criminal wanted to face as their ultimate fate. Guard towers were erected, barbed wire now adorned the cellblocks, catwalks were constructed to allow constant surveillance of prisoners and cell bars could only be opened electronically. Alacatraz was transformed into the Mecca of all penal complexes. The most hardened and notorious of criminals from all over the country were transported to Alacatraz not directly through the court system, but by recommendation of wardens in other prisons in which they were incarcerated.          Al Capone (right) was indeed the most illustrious of those sent to the prison, but the illicit roster of felons included Doc Barker, Robert Stroud (more famously known as "The Birdman of Alcatraz", Mickey Cohen and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Despite their respective claims to fame and the perverse reverence much of the public held them in, none received the special favors and privileges they had received at other penitentiaries. They were imprisoned in a 5x9 cell, took one shower per week, spent little time in the prison courtyard and were assigned backbreaking work details. The media was never allowed onto the island and guards were threatened with dismissal if any ever so much as spoke to a reporter about what went on there. There were no "stars" at Alcatraz. In fact, in 4 1/2 years there, the ruthless treatment the acclaimed Capone received from prison officials coupled with one particular attempt on his life by another inmate eventually broke his will and drove him quite insane.          On March 23, 1963, on instruction from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who cited the decaying conditions of the prison and the exorbitant cost of renovating it, Alcatraz was declared obsolete and closed its doors. In 1969 however, a group of Native Americans landed on the island a declared it to be rightfully their property. They cited plans for a school and cultural center to be constructed among other ideas and established a presence there. Ironically, while talks between the Indians and the government continued, the new occupants began to experience the same setbacks and drawbacks their predecessors had for so many years. Structural degradation and the difficulties in getting supplies to the island plagued them to the point that hopelessness began to replace optimism for them.   Sioux tribesmen staking claim to Alcatraz Island in 1969          In 1970, a fire of suspicious origin broke out on the island, severely damaging the Warden's House, the lighthouse and several other buildings. The blame for the fire was placed squarely on the Native Americans residing there, inflaming hostilities that were already heating up. Most of the original activists had already left there and those remaining were looked upon unfavorably as merely taking advantage of the situation. On June 11, 1971, the Coast Guard and members of the U.S. Marshal's service took control of the island and once again the island fell silent.          In 1972 Congress designated the Golden Gate area to be a national landmark and Alcatraz Island, being part of that region, was taken over by the National Park Service. It remains today one of the nation's top tourist attractions with over 1,000,000 visitors each year.             NOTEWORTHY LOCATIONS          There were particular areas of the prison that stood out as the least-desirable to find oneself in:        The main corridor of the cellblock was called "Broadway", the coldest, clammiest and most heavily patrolled of blocks. "Broadway"          The "Hole" and the "Strip Cell" were the worst of the punishment cells. These six cells were located in D Block and its occupants not only might spend days or weeks inside depending on the severity of the violation, but were also subjected to brutal beatings by the guards. Those thrashings would reverberate throughout the nearby cells, which in and of itself provided encouragement to other prisoners to "do the right thing". In the "Hole" prisoners were forced to sleep on the floor, given little but bread and water to eat and experienced a type of sensory deprivation by existing in silence and darkness with only a low-watt light bulb suspended from the ceiling. Many incorrigible inmates in this environment were driven to insanity by multiple trips to the "Hole". This place was reserved for prisoners who had committed the worst transgressions. Example of "The Hole"          The "Strip Cell" demonstrated similarities of its counterparts, with the added condition that the inmate was placed in the cell completely naked. The cold, darkness and general discomfort were amplified, but on the plus side he did receive a straw mattress (which guards removed each morning). A hole in the floor replaced a toilet as an added creature comfort.    Cell Block D at Alcatraz "D Block" - lower level cells were called the "strip cells"          The most heinous of all places though were the dungeons, located down a staircase and behind a steel door below Cellblock A. Convicts would be stripped of clothing and chained to a wall in a standing position for up to 12 hours. The dungeons were a place that once housed in the gun ports of the old fortress where their screams of agony fell on deaf ears. Their latrine was a bucket that was emptied but once a week and their meals consisted of one slice of bread and two cups of water per day. Like the other places of punishment, every third day they would receive a regular meal.         The Dungeon, Alcatraz       "The Dungeon"    FAMOUS ESCAPE ATTEMPTS          There have been 14 escape attempts from Alcatraz, normally ending in capture or catastrophe for the participants but two stand out among all others:            In 1946, six inmates managed to secure weapons by entering the gun gallery. After quickly subduing a guard, they frantically searched for the keys that would get them to the rec yard and eventually out of the prison. Now fully armed, they took nine guards hostage and had them turn over their keys.  One of the prison guards, Bill Miller, managed to hide the most critical of all keys, the one that opened the door to the building itself, in a toilet inside the cell he and his partners were being held hostage. From there the plan deteriorated quickly.          Facing the inevitable, the men, Clarence Carnes, Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson decided to take guards hostage and make a stand. Eventually, three of the guards were murdered by the would-be escapees. As "The Battle For Alcatraz" escalated, U.S. Marines were called in and peppered the cell block with heavy artillery and gunfire for two straight days.          With time running out for them and reinforcements called from the Navy, Army and Coast Guard, three of the prisoners, Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard tried to hunker down in a nearby utility corridor, but eventually succumbed to gunfire and grenade shrapnel strafing the block. Carnes, Shockley and Thompson attempted to blend in with the rest of the prison population in the hopes their roles in the breakout would not be realized. Their plan fell short of its intended goal though as Shockley and Carnes were in due course executed for their part in the confrontation, while Thompson, who had tried to administer to some of the wounded hostages, was granted some leniency and given a mere life sentence plus 99 years.   Photo taken during "The Battle for Alcatraz" in 1946          The second was an attempt at escape made in 1962 and is so compelling the details surrounding it became the basis of the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie Escape From Alcatraz.           Prisoners Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin devised a plan involving the building of a raft and construction of life jackets and human-like dummies that would fool guards into thinking the prisoners were in their bunks during hourly bed checks. They used hand-made and stolen tools to dig through vents in their cells and actually re-created the vent covers to make them appear untouched. The dummies they created were lifelike down to the last detail of taking hair from the prison barber shop to paste on their heads.          On June 11, 1962, after an evening bed check, Frank, Clarence and John squeezed through their vents and made it to the roof via air ducts. From there they made it through another vent duct to the roof's edge and descended down the side of the wall by climbing down roof drain pipes. They scaled over the prison fence, made it down to the shoreline and once there, inflated the raft and life jackets they had created.          The next morning, a guard doing the early check noticed one of the "men" in his cell did not respond to his calls. When the guard poked at the body, the head fell off onto the floor.        To the present day, it is not known whether the intrepid escapees actually made it to safety or not. No bodies were ever found and the FBI has no information to confirm or deny the escape was successful.                     THE HAUNTINGS            For many, Alcatraz is among the handful of locations dubbed "worlds most haunted places". If traumatic death, torment and despair are all catalysts to a haunt, then that assessment may be correct. "The Rock" seems to be a place where the energies of those who were confined or even employed there remain behind.          As mentioned previously, as far back as the times of the early Native American presence there, evil spirits were said to inhabit the island and some Indians - deemed guilty of tribal violations - would be banished there for a time or perhaps permanently. Indeed an interesting precursor of things to come.          Inside the dungeon area, phenomena include: horrible screams and the sounds of voices and whistles. The sound of metal doors closing and interestingly, a woman's terrifying scream have also been heard in this locale. The latter was experienced by guests on a tour of the prison given by none other than Warden James A. Johnston.          Prison guards through the years have witnessed and reported more than their share of activity. In the 1930s, they spoke of an entity they called simply "The Thing" which would appear without notice sporting glowing red eyes.          Guards would often hear the unmistakable sounds of cannon fire and gunshots so real that many would throw themselves to the ground, fearing the inmates had seized the weapons and were opening fire on them.          In the laundry room, the smell of smoke would permeate the air, forcing the guards to rush to the location expecting to see a fire breaking out. When entering the room, they would encounter heavy black smoke which would drive them from the area. However, moments later, the smoke would dissipate and the room would be clear.          An unseen specter who is thought to be the ghost of Abie "Butcher" Maldowitz, a former hit man with Murder, Inc., is also said to haunt this room. He was killed by a fellow prisoner in the laundry area.          The D Block is considered to be the most haunted area of the prison and contained the cells known as The Hole and The Strip Cell. It was essentially, solitary confinement in which prisoners sent there were totally isolated from the rest of the population. Guards very often would report seeing the ghost of a man dressed in 1880s attire walking the halls near the Strip Cell.          The most famous ghost story involving The Hole was of a prisoner sent there who, almost as soon as he was situated, began screaming that an entity with glowing red eyes was in the cell with him. Tales of this legendary being were already the subject of jokes and mockery for many, many years amongst the guards and as a result the prisoner's cries went unheeded.          The horrified shouts of the inmate continued well into the night until finally the cell went silent. The following morning when the guards entered the cell, the convict was found dead with what were unmistakable hand-prints around his throat. Although common theory suggested a guard who had had enough of the prisoner's screaming had strangled him, the resulting investigation turned up no evidence to support it.  As far as potential suicide, the autopsy ruled the wounds were not self-inflicted.          Later on, when the guards assembled the prisoners for the daily head count, each was stunned to see an extra inmate lined up at the end of one of the rows. It was the convict who had earlier been found dead. As they looked on in amazement, the prisoner disappeared before their eyes.          The most chilling of the general population cells in D Block are numbers 12 and 14. 14-D in particular is said to be much colder than the others and numerous psychics who have spent time inside say there is a presence inside that is quite foreboding. Even some park rangers refuse to go into D Block by themselves.          In Cellblock C, the hallway where three prisoners from the infamous escape attempt of 1946 were killed is said to be haunted. Apparitions and loud, strange noises have been reported in this area as well as weird disembodied voices. A night watchman some 30 years ago heard banging sounds behind the door which led to the corridor. Upon opening the door, the noises would cease. The watchman did this twice with the same result each time.          The spirit of Al Capone, who was housed in C block (below) has also been heard. His wife sent to him as a source of entertainment, a banjo which he played each day, continuing well into his descent into insanity. The eerie sounds of a banjo playing have been heard here.          The Warden's House has also seen its share of paranormal phenomena over the years. Several guards claim to have seen ghostly man from another era appear before them at a Christmas Party held there.     Ruins of what was the Warden's House          Finally, the old lighthouse (below) is said to materialize on foggy nights. Its presence is announced by a sharp whistling sound followed by a flashing greenish light that moves across the entire perimeter of the island.          Lighthouse