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Even long before the building known as Alcatraz appeared, the island that would become its home was a place best left alone. Indeed, local Indians believed that evil spirits inhabited the island and would go to great lengths to steer clear of it.
In the late 1840s, the US Army began constructing a military-type fortress on the island. The California Gold Rush was in full swing and the US military to protect the California coast against other countries attempting to come in and seize the gold-laden land. The first official prisoners to inhabit Alcatraz island were Civil War prisoners who arrived in 1861. The prison was again used as a POW-type prison during the Spanish-American War. Expansion of the prison continued to take place in order to keep up with the influx of prisoners. Still, as the 1920s came to an end, Alcatraz was operating at full capacity.
But contrary to popular belief, Alcatraz was not always as rough and foreboding as people would think. In fact, in its early years, it was fairly minimum-security. There are even stories of the US Army boating loads of fertile soil over to the prison. This was done in order to plant large quantities of plants and flowers donated by the California Spring and Wild Flower Association in an attempt to make the prison island appear less "sterile".
This all changed in 1934. The costs of operating the prison became too high and the US military closed its door, turning over ownership to the Department of Justice in the process. While this was taking place, organized crime was spreading throughout the country. Faced with the notion of gangsters invading their neighborhoods, the public demanded authorities adopt a new, fiercer stance against crime.
The Justice Department believed Alcatraz offered the perfect solution. It was decided to re-open the prison, but only after fitting it with features designed to deter any escape attempts and give guards the ability to watch every move the prisoners made. In short, the message would be that once you entered Alcatraz as a prisoner, there was no way out other than serving your time. And since the prison was fully visible from its location in the middle of the bay, it could also serve as a visual reminder of what awaited those who "strayed".
In 1946, several prisoners overpowered a guard and gained access to firearms. However, when they were unable to find a way off the island, the escape attempt quickly deteriorated into a hostage situation with prison guards being herded into cells. While all this was taking place, US Marines were called in and stormed the island in an attempt to overpower the prisoners. It took two days to restore order to Alcatraz. And when it was all over, several inmates and guards lay dead.
Alcatraz officially closed its doors on March 21st, 1963. And although official prison records record only 27-28 deaths at the prison (seven-eight murders, five suicides, and 15 from illness), it would appear as thought more than a few of these departed souls still linger within the old walls of Alcatraz.
If indeed ghosts do inhabit Alcatraz, they would most likely feel right at home in cell block D. This area is reported to have at least four haunted cells, all in a row: 11-D, 12-D, unlucky 13-D, and 14-D. And while the identity of the spirits in the other three cells are still open to debate, 14-D is said to be home to the ghost of Rufe McCain, an inmate forced to live in solitary confinement in this cell for over three years. Visitors who have entered the cell have reported overwhelming feelings of sadness and, on more than one occasion, icy chills.
In contrast to the cells of in D block, there is no one cell in the over 300 of B and C block that is alleged to be haunted. But that is not to say ghosts are not supposed to be present here. In fact, strange noises are often heard in this area, ranging from things being moved around and cell doors slamming to human-like screams. Cell block C is also the location where psychic Sylvia Brown allegedly met the angry spirit of mobster Abie "Butcher" Maldowitz, who was murdered in the cell block by a fellow inmate.
But one of the more famous, or infamous, ghosts said to haunt Alcatraz is that of gangster Al Capone. It is said that while imprisoned at Alcatraz, Capone would often play a banjo. And even today, people often report hearing the sound of a ghostly banjo echoing from within the prison walls.
After it closed in 1963, Alcatraz was eventually taken over by the National Park Service. The Park Service prides itself on the fact that the area boasts large colonies of western gulls. But the prison itself still remains the main attraction and The National Park Service offers tours of the prison grounds throughout the year. It is estimated that over million tourist visit the prison every year-a testament to the immortal allure of the building.