Haunted History of Alcatraz


There is a reason Alcatraz is the number one tourist spot in the US. It has the history, the haunting, and the civil unrest. Alcatraz has had it share of controversy when it was a prison, and after it was officially closed. On our Alcatraz episode of Ghost Town podcast, we discuss the the haunted history of Alcatraz.

Photo: alcatraztickets.com

Photo: alcatraztickets.com


Photo: prarieghosts.com

Photo: prarieghosts.com

One of the most haunted areas of Alcatraz is the utility corridor where 3 inmates were shot after a failed prison escape. In 1976 this was in the same area that a night security guard reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from inside.

In Cell 14D,  which is considered a “hole cell”, visitors and employees alike have reported feeling a coldness and have claimed that at times the felt sudden 'intensity' in the cell. Tales 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 it. The next day, during head counts, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed to see the dead prisoner in line with the other inmates, but only for a second, then he was gone.

Warden Johnston, aka "The Golden Rule Warden," also experienced a bizarre event while showing some of his guests around the prison. Johnston and the visitors heard someone sobbing from inside the prison walls, and then a cold wind whisked past the group. Warden Johnston couldn’t explain any reason for the occurrences.

 Al Capone, who spent his last years at Alcatraz took up playing the banjo with a prison band. Capone feared that he would be killed if he spent his recreational time in the prison yard. Capone received permission to spend the time practicing his banjo in the shower room. 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. Other visitors and employees have reported hearing the same sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls.


Photo: memorabledestination.com

Photo: memorabledestination.com

On March 8, 1964, a small group of Sioux made there way to Alcatraz Island, which had been abandoned as a prison the previous year. They invoked the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie in reclaiming the surplus federal property as Native land, and spent a few hours singing and drumming before being removed by federal marshals. This event set the larger occupation in motion.

 On November 9, 1969, dozens of Native Americans of numerous tribes gathered at Pier 39 and read a proclamation claiming Alcatraz by right of discovery, and offering to buy it for $24 in beads and cloth. From there they took a symbolic sailboat cruise around the island. Several of them dove overboard and attempted to swim to the island. One made it, but the others were swept away by the tide and had to be rescued. Later that night, 14 activists convinced a local fishermen to take them to the island, where they spent the night. These were just trial runs for the true occupation, which began on November 20th when nearly 80 Native Americans came to Alcatraz in the middle of the night. Composed of members of more than 20 tribes from across the continent, the occupiers called themselves the Indians of All Tribes.

One of the most prominent of the organizers was Richard Oakes. He had assembled Native Americans from around the Bay Area, as well as Indigenous students from UCLA. As soon as they made to the island, the occupiers set up an elected council and went to work organizing the day-to-day running of the island, assigning jobs, and making decisions by unanimous vote.

They released a list of demands, and invited the federal government to join them in formal negotiations. The demands were as follows:

1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.

2. It has no fresh running water.

3. The sanitation facilities are inadequate.

4. There are no oil or mineral rights.

5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.

6. There are no health care facilities.

7. The soil is rocky and non-productive and the land does not support game.

8. There are no educational facilities.

9. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.

The government demanded that the occupiers leave, and set up a Coast Guard blockade to prevent supplies from reaching them. The government later decided on a strategy of non-interference, hoping that if they waited long enough the occupation would collapse on its own.

The occupation was widely covered by the media, and generated broad interest in the grievances the occupiers were expressing: broken treaties, broken promises and the marginalization of their culture. Demonstrations and occupations arose up around the country in solidarity. In January 1970, tragedy struck the occupation when Richard Oakes’ 13-year-old stepdaughter Yvonne fell from a third-story stairwell and died. Oakes soon left Alcatraz.

Many of the earlier occupiers left to return to school, and many of the new occupiers were mostly interested in feeding their drug addictions than attaining the original goal of the occupation. Non-Indigenous hippies and drug users began showing up, but were eventually barred from staying overnight.

In private negotiations, the federal government, impatient to have the island cleared out, offered Fort Mason in San Francisco as an alternative site for a Native American cultural center. The occupiers refused, and the government decided to escalate. Electricity and telephone service eventually were cut off, followed by water.

On the night of June 1, 1971, a fire broke out which destroyed several buildings. The government blamed the occupiers, who then blamed government infiltrators. The amount of occupiers dwindled. A few days later, the feds made their move. On June 11, 1971, nearly 18 months after the start of the occupation, federal marshals came ashore and forcefully evicted the last 15 occupiers.