From 1934 until 1963, Alcatraz was one of the most notorious maximum-security prisons in America. Many of its inmates, who nicknamed it “the Rock” called it their home, and it was the final stop for some of them. Today, people from all over the world come to visit the island as it has become San Francisco’s most iconic landmark and tourist attraction.
The prison has a grim past, and visitors can explore its history through photos and narratives, and learn about some of the most infamous criminals who were held in Alcatraz. Here are 10 dark facts you probably never knew…
In B & C block, the cells were a mere 5 feet by 9 feet; most inmates were able to extend their arms and touch either side. The D block cells were slightly bigger, but the inmates here were held for 24 hours a day, and were allowed only one weekly visit to the recreation yard alone.
There were no escapes
Alcatraz was declared “escape-proof” and 36 inmates put that to the test; out of them, 23 were captured before they even had a chance, six were shot to death, and two of them drowned. However, the other five went missing after their “escape” but people presumed they had drowned; their possessions were found floating in San Francisco Bay. They inspired the blockbuster hit film, “Escape From Alcatraz” in 1979.
The prison had hot water
That doesn’t sound like a dark fact, but the reasoning behind it is; the prison staff argued that the inmates would acclimate to the hot water, meaning they were less likely to be able to withstand the freezing sea temperatures should they attempt an escape.
The Birdman was a notorious inmate, his real name was Robert Stroud – and people were calling for his release. However, people didn’t know he was Alcatraz’s most violent prisoner; he stabbed an inmate and a guard.
American mobster and crime boss, Al Capone, played the banjo in a band called The Rock Islanders while he was incarcerated in the prison.
Alcatraz has been labelled as one of the most haunted locations in America; many people have died in the prison, and visitors claim they can hear male screams, whistling, and slamming doors while walking through its abandoned corridors…
There was no ‘Death Row’
The prison didn’t even have the facilities to carry out the death penalty, but that’s not to say a lot of people didn’t die there. Many committed suicide, killed each other, and some died of “natural” causes as a result of the poor and decaying conditions they were kept in.
There were reports of inmates losing their minds while imprisoned in Alcatraz; many were locked in their cells 24 hours a day, and there was supposedly a strict rule on silence. It created intense feelings of isolation and loneliness that lead some prisoners to suicide.
The prison closed in 1963 after operating costs became too high; supplies had to be bought in by boat and there was no fresh water on the island – gallons upon gallons were shipped in every week. Plus the salty sea air lead to unhygienic blue decay all over and in the building.