Alcatraz Island

Made famous as an inescapable prison, Alcatraz Island may have captured a few spirits for eternity

Paranormal Activity on
Alcatraz Island

  • A woman’s cries have been heard from strange areas of the island
  • The apparition of a man in gray has been seen around the grounds
  • Cold winds have been felt following the appearance of Alcatraz ghosts
  • The vision of the long gone island lighthouse is still seen at times
  • Mysterious banjo music has been heard
  • Significant cold spots are encountered in Cell 14D
  • Ghostly figures have reportedly been captured by tourist photos in the past
  • Disembodied cries, voices, and sounds of slammed cell doors are common throughout the prison

History of the Infamous Alcatraz

On a rocky island in San Francisco Bay sits perhaps the most famous prison in the United States. Alcatraz Prison has been immortalized by films, television, and stories told and retold for generations.

Once notorious for its inescapable position, Alcatraz was home to many infamous criminals in its short life as a federal prison.

While its best known mystery is of missing escapees, Alcatraz has its share of ghost stories.

From strange cold spots to ghostly voices in the cell blocks, it seems some souls remain entombed in the rocks of Alcatraz.

Timeline of Alcatraz Island's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Alcatraz Island through the years


When Alcatraz Island was first reported in records in 1775, it wasn’t much to look at. Noted that year by Juan Manuel de Ayala, he dubbed it ‘Isla de los Alcatraces,’ after the birds he spotted on the island. For three quarters of a century, the island would remain uninhabited and mostly unimportant.

All that would change after the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. In the aftermath of the war, the United States won California and with it, Alcatraz Island.


In 1854, under control of the United States government, Alcatraz became home to the first lighthouse on the California coast. But the government’s work on the island didn’t stop there. By 1859, many fortifications and buildings were built. It was, at that time, a full-fledged military garrison.

During the Civil War, the island got its first glimpse of the future when it held a select number of dangerous criminals. In 1895, the island saw more prisoners when it took in Native Americans who resisted assimilation.


Though the island became a military prison in 1907, it didn’t become famous until 1933. That year, it came under the operation of the US Department of Justice. Under the DOJ, it was fitted to be the nation’s most maximum security prison.

The federal prison formally opened in 1934, and soon greeted some of the most infamous names of the time like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Robert Stroud also became a famous prisoner as a renowned ornithologist, dubbed the ‘Bird Man of Alcatraz.’


In 1962, Alcatraz saw arguably its most famous day when a trio of prisoners attempted an escape. Prisoners Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin managed to make it off the island on a raft, and they were never seen again.

The mystery of their disappearance, and whether they escaped the inescapable Alcatraz, continues to puzzle many. This, along with budgetary concerns, led to the prison closing in 1963. Despite its closure after just 29 years, Alcatraz’s life was far from over.


In 1969, a group of Native Americans occupied the island. Named the ‘Indians of All Tribes,’ the group hoped to build a community on Alcatraz. But, in early 1971, President Nixon sent in troops and cleared them from the island. In 1972, the island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and it fell under the control of the National Park Service.

Ever since, Alcatraz has been a popular tourist destination. And some of the island’s visitors have left the island with the sense something spooky is going on at Alcatraz.

Ghosts in the Warden’s House?

Ghostly activity has been reported around Alcatraz since it opened. During the tenure of the first warden, James Johnston, guards and even Johnston himself reported strange activity. In one instance, Johnston was leading a tour through the prison grounds and the group heard a woman wailing.

They could not locate the source of the cries and they disappeared shortly after, leaving with a gust of ice cold wind.

In another instance with Warden Johnston, a man in gray appeared during a Christmas party at his home.

When the man faded moments later, another cold wind blew through the house. It was powerful enough to extinguish the fire in the fireplace, or so the story goes.

Phantom Lighthouse of Alcatraz

In addition to Johnston’s haunts, some have reportedly seen the old Alcatraz lighthouse on foggy nights.

Though the original lighthouse has been gone for decades, some swear it appears in the night, its bright light swirling around, but only for a few moments. But the light, just like the vision of the lighthouse, disappears not long after it shows up.

Chilling Haunts in Cell 14D

In the prison itself, Cell 14D is a well known haunted hotspot. Popular lore states that a prisoner in the 1940s was locked away in Cell 14D and immediately began screaming that there was someone with glowing eyes there with him. By the time anyone checked on him, the prisoner was dead, apparently strangled.

This tale is likely embellished, but the experiences of modern tourists in Cell 14D aren’t. Many report the cell to be colder than all the others, sometimes by as much as 20 degrees.

Whistling and Wailing Specters in Cell Blocks

Across Cell Blocks A, B, and C, many strange sounds have been reported. Most often, people report sounds of ghostly sobbing echoing through the cells at certain times.

At other points, visitors have claimed to hear moaning from these cell blocks, while others have heard disembodied voices. In some areas, tourists have heard sounds of people whistling and cell doors slamming as well.

Al Capone’s Ghostly Banjo Tunes

As with many places associated with Al Capone, his spirit is said to haunt Alcatraz. In the later years of his stay on the island, Capone played banjo to help pass the time. Today, you can reportedly still hear the old gangster strumming on his banjo around the prison.

Strangely, the twangy sounds of the ghost banjo are frequently heard around the old shower area of the prison. Some say that is where Capone played his music, not wanting to risk going out in the prison yard to do it.

Phantom Photos From Alcatraz

Over the years of tourists to the island, many of them have come away with their own paranormal experiences just from day tours.

While countless photos have been taken around the prison, a select few have reportedly captured spectral images from the prison’s ghosts. In at least one instance, vivid apparitions have apparently been photographed looking directly into tourists’ cameras.

Alcatraz: Island of Mystery

Alcatraz Island remains one of the most popular tourist spots in San Francisco today. While the history and surviving prison structures are the main draws, plenty flock to Alcatraz hoping to spot a ghost. With the hauntings featured in recent years on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, the haunting lore of Alcatraz has never been more popular.

While you can’t book a ghost hunt or paranormal tour at the prison, there are still plenty of tour options to choose from. There are even some nighttime tours, for the dedicated spooky explorer.

And if you happen to hear Al Capone’s banjo tunes on your tour, try to whistle along. The ghostly whistlers in the cell blocks just might join in.