California Attractions


Alcatraz Island's Horrific Past 

Alcatraz Island San Francisco - Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area

San Francisco , Alcatraz was not a pleasant place to be. Cell Block 34 or The Rock was notorious as a horrible place with living conditions that were barely tolerable. Situated on a small island in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz housed a security federal prison from 1934 until 1963. Before that time, the rock was a military prison housing soldiers from 1859 until 1933. The men slept on the stone floors, side by side with no heat, or running water and disease spread easily. Rain, fog and strong ocean currents made The Rock an unfriendly place and certainly no vacation for those sent to die in what some called a hell-hole. The story of Alcatraz is horrific enough but paranormal investigators and many guests to Alcatraz have reported evil energy permeating the island and its buildings.  Even before Alcatraz was built,  Native Americans who lived in the area considered Alcatraz as a place of evil. They avoided the island. Soon after it began to accept military criminals, guards reported stories about phantoms in the hole, particularly in cells 12 and 14 D. One unfortunate prisoner screamed for the guards to help him because a creature with red glowing eyes was in the cell with him. The guards ignored him, and the man screamed for much of the night until finally he stopped The next morning when the guards went to check on him, they found him dead.

The creature with the red glowing eyes was reported often to guards standing at bay in this unpleasant, dank, dark place. Several guards claimed to have seen this image as well as many other unusual sightings. Cold spots, bad smells, sounds of sobbing, screaming, moaning, phantom canon shots, gun shots, strange tappings, footsteps, doors slamming and unusual crashing sounds were routinely reported. Entire groups of soldiers and prisoners disappear right before visitors eyes.

The most haunted portions of the island seem to be D Block and Cell C utility door where a very bloody and unsuccessful escape attempt took place. The  Warden's house, the hospital and the laundry room are other locations of activity, though the entire complex is considered haunted in reality.  Cell block D appears to be the most haunted however. The hole is the name of cells 9-14, so named  because there are no windows. In the hole, and especially cells 12 and 14 house the most intense feeling of panic exists. Some report a choking sensation plus fear, hate and palpable tension. In cell 14, it is always cold. For the casual observer, all bets are off as to the quality or quantity of ghostly encounters to be had at Alcatraz. When your tour guide says it's time to leave, you are wise to listen and get off the island.

This light's structure was built in 1909 to replace the original lighthouse built in 1854. In the 70s, a group of Indians claiming grandfather rights to the island invaded the island. A fire during that incident damaged the lower portion of the lighthouse. Federal agents eventually landed on the island and removed the Indians. Tours to the island depart from Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. For tickets visit the Blue and Gold Fleet Tour booth at Fisherman's Wharf.

Alcatraz is best known as "the Rock" - a prison where the worst of the worst were incarcerated. However, the island is also the  site of the first California lighthouse,. The island's name itself is derived from the Spanish word alcatraces, meaning "strange bird" - a reference to pelicans living on the island when it was visited by the Spanish. The name "Alcatraces" was actually originally given to what is now Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. In 1775, the name transferred to the current site. The US Coast Guard Survey shortened the name to Alcatraz in 1851. 

Work on the first Alcatraz lighthouse began in 1852. The original structure was a California cottage - a two-story structure with a tower in the center. The fifty-foot lighthouse was painted white with black trim and a back lantern room. The fixed third-order lens did not arrive until October 1853. Budget problems delayed installation until 1854.  A fog bell was added in 1856, when it was clear that San Francisco's now well-known fog often rendered the light ineffective. The original bell was rung by hand.

The prison was closed in 1963 and the lighthouse was automated that year, as well. The lens was removed, and a reflecting light installed.  A fire burned a portion of the lighthouse in 1969. With threats that the entire island prisons and lighthouse would be destroyed to a wrecking ball, it was designated an historic site an was saved in 1972, becoming a part of a newly-formed Golden Gate National Recreational Area, administered by the National Parks Service.   Today, a 200,000 candlepower optic shines from the 1909 tower. The island is a popular tourist attraction. The fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display in the island museum.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

More Info

Near San Francisco