What is the History of Alcatraz Prison?

Alcatraz, a prison on an island in San Francisco Bay that has been closed since 1963.
One of the myths surrounding Alcatraz was that it was inescapable.
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Alcatraz was the name given to the island occupied by one of the world's most famous prisons. Situated in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is one of the three islands discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, in 1775. It is unclear if Ayala named the current Yerba Buena Island La Isla de los Alcatraces, the name later being transferred to what is now known as Alcatraz, or if the name was indeed given to the current Alcatraz Island. The word Alcatraces means "pelicans" in Spanish. In 1851, the name was officially shortened to Alcatraz, which means "pelican" in Spanish.

Prior to its use as a prison, the island was used as a military site. In the 1850s it began housing military prisoners. This continued until 1933 when it was turned over to the US Department of Justice. Alcatraz was opened as a maximum security prison. It was designed for the most dangerous criminals and repeat offenders.

Many films have been made using Alcatraz as its subject. Most of these films have created a view of the prison that was not actually in keeping with the reality of prison life. Alcatraz had a capacity to hold 336 prisoners but was at no time filled to that capacity. Many of the prisoners claimed that the conditions in the prison were far superior to other prisons.


One of the myths surrounding Alcatraz was that it was inescapable. Although the waters surrounding the island are extremely cold and full of strong currents, there are no man-eating sharks as usually portrayed in the films. In recent years two 10 year old children actually swam to the island to prove that it could be done. But, as with every prison, there were escape attempts. In total 36 men attempted 14 separate escapes. Twenty-three of these men were caught, two men were drowned and six men were shot and killed during their escape attempts. There are still five prisoners who escaped who are listed as "Missing Presumed Drowned."

One of the most famous films made of Alcatraz's history was The Birdman of Alcatraz. The film starred Burt Lancaster as real life prisoner Robert Stroud. Once again Hollywood took liberties with the actual story. In real life Stroud did breed and study sparrows and canaries, writing two books about canaries and their diseases. However, some of the birdcages and equipment in his cell were eventually discovered to be part of a still for brewing alcohol.

In its time, Alcatraz did house a few other well-known prisoners. These included Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Arthur "Doc" Barker. But the amount of famous or infamous inmates was a very small percentage of the 1,576 prisoners who were housed in the prison over the years. The vast majority of inmates were not famous criminals.

Alcatraz was eventually shut down and abandoned in 1963, the main reason being that it was simply too expensive to run compared to other prisons. It has had a colorful history since its closure. At one point Native American Indians claimed it as rightfully theirs and had a strong group of supporters. Unfortunately vandalism and a fire on the island put paid to this idea and the remaining Indians were moved out in 1971. Alcatraz Island and the prison grounds are now a major tourist attraction with over a million visitors arriving to the island each year.


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Post 59

I think its haunted I read all the comments and I'm going there soon so I'm going to see if it's haunted.

Post 55

If it's not haunted, then why did a person die in a strip cell screaming that a monster was killing him slowly? He screamed all night and then there was silence, and when the guards when to check on him he was strangled to death by someone else. He didn't kill himself.

Post 52

what happened to the prisoners from Alcatraz after it closed?

Post 51

You can't say it's not haunted because you weren't there at the time. You don't know how the inmates were treated and you don't know how many people died there. It's full of misery and I think it's haunted. Horrible times call for a horrible story. It was a prison in the 1900's -- think about it.

Post 49

Whether or not it's haunted, I don't know. But I went there years ago and that was when I saw a dead body for the first time. On the ferry ride back from Alcatraz a woman jumped off the boat and died. The boat turned around and went back looking for her and we (my classmates and I) saw her dead, floating in the water. It's an image that even now 14 years later I can't get out of my mind. I don't think I'll ever go back.

Post 46

I think it is haunted, I was there (daytime) but I still saw some weird things. In the library I saw a book slide out from under a shelf or something and slide back in, it only got out like 2 centimeters though.

Post 42

i doubt it's haunted. my mom said there is no such thing as ghosts, only spirits like demons and stuff and if they are real the bible says not to mess with them. They won't mess with you if you don't mess with them.

Post 41

is it haunted? If it is, why don't you spend the night after hours when no one is there. Just avoid security, if there is any. Take a video camera and a flashlight and videotape this so called haunting? Put it online.

Post 40

Haunted? Horse hockey. People will believe whatever they want to scare themselves into believing. It's an old, decrepit prison where "spooky" sounds happen. As for "Ghost Hunters" what a laugh. Anything for a buck, anything for a rating. I have seen that load of crap they try to peddle. Pure junk and bunk.

Alcatraz is a fascinating place for it's history, a look into the past and the lives of those criminals who needed to be kept out of a civilized world. Also a look at an island that holds a truly historical existence well before the military and Federal prison eras.

If you go looking for spooks, you will find them as the mind has an unlimited amount, only limited by your imagination. Personally, I go for the history and it is a very rich and rewarding experience.

Post 39

i do believe it is is haunted. my mom once went there and she said it was awesome.

Post 38

Guys it's haunted. If you don't believe me watch Ghost Hunters. It's amazing what they find at the end. "Harry Brunette" and I don't think they could have faked that stuff.

Post 37

Alcatraz is such a funny place. i have been there and it was not that scary.

Post 36

Alcatraz is most definitely haunted, and those of you who don't believe so should go there yourselves. i have been there, so i know. these are not stories either. there's evil in that place and if you're scared the tiniest bit by the paranormal i really do suggest you not go there. i'm still shaken up about it.

Post 35

I'm going to visit it one day.

Post 34

Alcatraz or Alcatraz is a place with lots of paranormal activities especially in cell 14, which belonged to Frank Norris who haunts the place.

Believe me: and my mates have been in there and my bag went flying.

Post 32

I read that it is mainly in one area but i can't remember where! and i have been there!

Post 28

wow, guys. alcatraz is haunted. i've been there.

Post 27

No, i don't think it's haunted! i think it's just a story somebody tried to come up with. people bore very easily these days and if someone really wanted to know the truth they should go to the museums and see for themselves.

Post 26

i think it's haunted and that's my opinion.

Post 25

wow. pretty scary. i would want to go see for myself if it's really haunted.

Post 24

i don't think al capone would be there as a ghost because he was set free from Alcatraz.

Post 22

Alcatraz is not haunted by ghosts, or haunted by convicts, murderer, hardened criminals. It's a big old dirty prison that was abandoned because it was too costly to run. Yikes. What's the fascination of that?

Post 21

Honestly. Alcatraz is not haunted. It's just disturbing knowing that I myself have stood where Al Capone and George Kelly have also. There is no such thing as ghosts.

Post 20

Alcatraz is awesome.

Post 19

I really don't think that Alcatraz is haunted. it does seem creepy but not in a haunted way.

Post 17

alcatraz was on a ghost show and they proved that it was haunted and i do believe in some things and that is one of them. now some of the stuff may be fake but i do believe there is something there.

Post 16

haunted, really? yeah right. i've been there myself. its not haunted -- just really big and dirty! I can't believe that people really think alcatraz is haunted. If there is such thing as alcatraz phobia, people who think alcatraz is haunted have it!

Post 14

well there's a show, the othersiders on cartoon network, and they went there and they heard clanks and bangs and even heard al capone playing his banjo. because that was a report and al capone did have a banjo while he was at alcatraz and he would play it because he was so bored.

Post 13

i wonder if any one ever got out of the prison successful? what cell was al capone in?

Post 12

im wondering if it is. i think it is just because it's so old.

Post 11

*gulp* my friend says there are spirits there at night. it's scary.

Post 9

you can say it's haunted once you prove it.

Post 6

anon, I hate to bust your buble but Alcatraz is not haunted. I worked there for five years as a park ranger and a guard (not the prison type). I knew the park ranger who started the shark with the fins cut off rumor. (she did it to see just "how stupid can people be") If you are a history buff by all means go there. it is a historic site, though most of the interesting stories I don't believe are told. have fun but no ghosts. rick

Post 5

well... there were a lot of deaths at Alcatraz... I have a pretty good idea that it's haunted... maybe.

Post 2

i wonder how haunted this prison really is...i want to go one day and see for myself.

Post 1

is this prison really haunted??...I wonder....

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