Was Alcatraz Really Haunted?

Alcatraz Island in California has gone through so much over the years that it's existed. It's perhaps best known as the site of the infamous Alcatraz prison where so many notorious criminals were held, some never to leave. With so much history, some people who've stayed on Alcatraz Island believe it's not only the living that inhabit it. Many people believe Alcatraz is one of the most haunted places in the United States — it's featured in several haunted San Francisco tours. The Rock, as it's sometimes called, has seen death and violence in its long history, so it wouldn't be a surprise if restless spirits remained on the island.

According to Alcatraz History, the island had been the site of a fort since 1853. It was built to defend the San Francisco harbor, which the U.S. annexed just six years earlier. But even before the fortifications, Native Americans already steered clear of the island. As Legends of America explains, some tribes used to banish or isolate violators of tribal laws to Alcatraz Island as punishment. They believed the island was full of evil spirits.

During the Civil War, the island became a military prison to house prisoners of war and, later, conscientious objectors during World War I. It wasn't until the Department of Justice bought the island and its structures that it became a federal prison.

Angry and restless spirits

Alcatraz served as the home of the country's premier maximum-security prison from 1934 until 1963. Maybe building a prison where evil spirits reside is not such a good idea. Was that why Alcatraz became known as a violent prison? Alcatraz History noted there were eight people murdered by other inmates over its years of operation. Another five men committed suicide, and 15 died of natural causes. While the island had its own morgue, no autopsies were performed there. Several people did try to escape the island. Many presumed to have drowned in the bay once they got past the prison's walls.

During its time as a federal prison, Alcatraz gained a reputation as one of the country's toughest prisons. Former inmates recalled it as brutal. Some went insane, with their imprisonment to blame. Prison guards were rumored to torture inmates. Until the 1950s, prisoners weren't allowed to talk to each other, so they devised a communication system using taps on pipes.

These harsh conditions, coupled with the anger and fear of many prisoners, probably contributed to why people feel Alcatraz is haunted. Even when it was still a prison, guards reported hearing mysterious sounds of sobbing and moaning, terrible smells, and even talked of a creature with glowing eyes they called "The Thing," with one inmate said to have died after seeing it in his cell. Wardens claimed visions of men in 19th-century clothing walking around, then disappearing. Women, unseen, were heard wailing.

Sounds of screaming, and also banjos

Today, visitors to the island and former prison sometimes report feeling uneasy while walking its halls, wrote AOL. Many claim they feel a sudden gust of cold air while standing in the D-block cells, where the supposed torture happened and where the more violent prisoners were kept. Tourists reported seeing apparitions of men standing in cells that have long been empty. Some people said they've heard the faint strains of banjo playing through the building. Why a banjo? Well, notorious crime boss Al Capone practiced his banjo playing when he was imprisoned in Alcatraz.

Because of its haunted reputation, various psychics have been invited to the island so they can get a reading. Depending on whether or not you believe TV psychics, many of them claim they've felt restless or even evil energy surrounding the prison. These psychics also report encountering spirits, like the one seen by celebrity psychic Sylvia Brown. According to the KC Ghosts website, she saw a tall, bald man with beady eyes in the Alcatraz laundry room. Later, she learned a man named Abie Maldowitz was killed there. 

But is Alcatraz haunted? Since many people from different walks of life have experienced some sort of paranormal event, it very well could be. But, they also could've been influenced by Alcatraz's already terrible reputation. The best way to find out is to experience it yourself; the National Park Service said Alcatraz is open for visitors again.