Largely recognised as the most notorious prison in the world, Alcatraz has been enshrined in popular culture. In the mind of many this prison island is synonymous with myths and legends, but no one knows it’s full story. And many of it’s mysteries go far deeper than the famous escape attempt. Which leaves us with some questions. Here are the 5 darkest legends of Alcatraz.
Our first legend comes from various Native cultures in the area. Alcatraz was not always a prison island. It became a federal prison in 1934. It was previously used as a military prison from the American civil war up until then. Before then it was a Mexican military island that was lost during the Mexican-American war, which was basically when the U.S. Invaded Mexico and stole 50% of her land. Which included Alcatraz as part of California. Alcatraz was first documented by Europeans in 1775, but Native Americans had known about it for a long time before. Many Native tribes believed that the island was occupied by a group of humanoid creatures covered in feathers. They would avoid venturing to the island for fear that the creatures would steal their souls. The creatures were said to have had only one arm. Their right arm, and in the place of their left arm was a large wing. They were sort of like a mix between humans and eagles. They survived by eating anything that approaches the island – whether it be a mouse or a human. Alcatraz island was known to have been a nesting spot for Pelican. So Maybe the natives just hallucinated while seeing them. It is part of some native cultures to take strong hallucinogenics.
The next legend is that the local police force set fire to the building. The prison was closed in 1963 – and in 1969 it was taken over by a group of 79 native-Americans. It was basically a publicity stunt to gain more attention for native issues. State officials were unable to remove the group as public opinion seemed to be in favour of their cause. They stayed there for 19 months before a huge fire broke out. It destroyed part of the building, which turned public opinion against the group. They were then evicted by authorities. The natives claimed the fire was started by a group white people who landed on the island that night. The legend is that the police needed an excuse to evict the group, so they started the fire in secret.
The Sound Of Madness
There is a legend that inside Alcatraz, the acoustics of the building alone were enough to drive a person insane. In the early years of being a federal prison, a policy of silence was strictly enforced. No noise would be tolerated – and if you’re wondering how they were allowed to do that… it was the 1930’s. Inmates begged the guards to end the silence, declaring it to be the worst kind of torture. But they were ignored. Even after several of them lost touch with reality. In 1937, a prisoner named Rufe Persful, who was permitted to work with tools, attempted to cut off his own hands with a hatchet. He managed to remove the fingers from one hand. It was never proven that such behaviour was caused by the silence.
Alcatraz island is seen by many as one of North-America’s most haunted places. Paranormal activity has been reported by both prisoners, and guards, and later by visitors. They describe hearing voices whispering from the cell walls, the sound of violin music, or machinery that hasn’t been in prison for 50 years. The officials deny any validity to these claims. When Mark Twait visited the island he wrote of it “being as cold as winter, even in the summer months”. E. Floyd once said that “almost every guard and official who served there… experienced something out of the ordinary”. The most common encounter people report is the sighting of dark phantom-like figures walking the corridors. These visions are often accompanied by the sound of chains being dragged along the floor. They are said to be the spirits of Native-Americans who were held in Alcatraz during it’s time as a military prison. In fact a prison guard once reported seeing a group of native soldiers marching in a circle before suddenly disappearing. An inmate once reported seeing glowing red eyes floating in the darkness. The following morning he was found dead in his cell with unrecognizable marks around his neck.
Escape From Alcatraz
There is a theory that the famous escape attempt of 1962 was actually a success. It was perhaps the most well documented prison escape ever. On the 11th of June, 1962, 3 men crawled through holes that they had dug in their cell walls, entering an unused corridor. In their beds they left behind dummy heads crafted from soap and toilet paper. As they climbed onto the prison roof, guards were fooled by the dummy heads and no alarm was raised. They climbed down the outside of the building and ran over to the DIY raft they had built. And on that raft they sailed away from Alcatraz. The authorities were unable to determine whether they made it safely to the shore or whether they simply drowned. They were assumed to have died but with no confirmed bodies, it’s a real mystery. A relative of one of the escapees claims that after the escape she received a phone call from him. And many other of their relatives claim that the escape was a success – and that the men have lived free ever since.
So that’s the last of the legends. Perhaps now you know why the LA times has described Alcatraz as the “most notorious federal penitentiary this country has ever known. It’s history runs far and deep, as do the stories, the rumors, and the legend
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