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The harshest, loneliest and most dismal of America's federal prisons, located on a damp rock of an island in San Francisco Bay, is said to be haunted by sounds that seem to be connected to inmates and violence of the past.

Alcatraz, originally named La Isla de Los Altraces (The Island of the pelicans), was firt an army fort and prison. In 1934 it was turned into a federal penitentiary. The toughest convicts were interred there solely for punishment, not for rehabilitation. The prison was closed in 1963 and is now a tourist attraction.

Al Capone was one of the first famous inmates there. After five years at "The Rock," as Alcatraz was called, he went insane, due part to his incarceration and in part to his condition of advanced syphilis.

Insanity was the kindest fate to befall a prisoner -- others committed suicide, murdered one another, mutilated themselves (one chopped off the fingers of one hand with an axe), or died unpleasant deaths from illnesses and disease. Beatings by guards were routine, and the screams of the beaten reverberated throughout the cells. Prisoners were shot trying to break out of the prison. In the ensuing bloodshed, three guards were killed and three of the six would-be escapees were shot to death; many others were wounded.

Little besides the sounds of violence was heard a Alcatraz, for prisoners were forbidden to talk, except for three minutes twice a day during recreation and two hours on weekends. Capone, whose life was constantly threatened by other inmates, kept largely to himself and spent his time playing his bajo in his cell or in the shower (showers were granted to inmates once a week). Capone joined a four-man band whose members included "Machine Gun" Kelly.

The most notorious cells were four solitary cells called "holes" in Block D, numbered 11, 12, 13 and 14. In solitary confinement, a prisoner was stripped of clothing, beaten, and shut up in complete darkness in one of the tiny cement cells with only a hole in the floor for a bathroom. He was fed bread and water twice a day, and given one full meal every third day. The holes were notorious for breaking men, either through insanity, illness or death. Capone was thrown into a hole on three occasions. Another inmate, Rufe McCain, was confined to 14-D for three years and two months as punishment for attempting to escape in 1939. Upon his release, he murdered another inmate who had been part of the escape plan.

No visual apparitions have been reported at Alcatraz since its closing, but guards and tour guides have reported hearing the sounds of clanging metal doors, men's voices, whistling, screams, and the running of feet along corridors. Clanging sounds have been heard at night in the corridor where the three 1946 escapees were gunned down. Screams have been heard coming from the dungeon, near Block-A, where the surviving three escapees were chained. Men's voices have been heard in the hospital ward. Various individuals have reported feeling "strange" in the vicinity of 14-D, although some acknowledged their reaction may be influenced by their knowledge of what went on there. The cell also reportedly remains very cold, even if the surrounding area has warmed on a hot day. Banjo music has been reported wafting from the shower room, where Capone once held forth with his only solace.

(Encyclopedia of Ghosts & Spirit by Rosemary Ellen Guiley)

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