Home About ARG Information Investigations Equipment Evidence Links Contact Us
Alcatraz Island, Former United States Penitentiary
w/ Nevada Spirit Seekers

Infrared photograph of a cell block

The history of Alcatraz Island goes much further back than the former prison itself.  During the California Gold Rush, the United States government began looking for suitable locations to construct fortifications in order to defend American interests.  Its location in the middle of the entrance to San Francisco Bay made Alcatraz Island the perfect choice for one such location.  Construction on these fortifications began in 1853 and was completed in 1859.  The original fortifications consisted of a brick citadel, two barracks, three cell blocks, and cannons positioned around the perimeter.  These fortifications turned out to be somewhat symbolic in nature as the garrison was much too small to effectively operate more than a small fraction of the cannon at any given time and certainly not enough to resist any real assault.  This was never more apparent than during an embarrassing incident in 1876 when a ship was towed into the bay for the purpose of being sunk as a military demonstration.  For several hours the cannons of Alcatraz fired but were unable to score a single hit on the target vessel.

The cold waters around the island also made it an ideal choice for a prison.  During the American Civil War a number of Confederate sympathizers were kept in the basement of the guardhouse.  A brick jailhouse was added in 1867 and Alcatraz became a disciplinary barracks and military prison in 1868.  In 1907 the island was designated as the Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.  Construction on the massive concrete cell block that exists today began in 1909 and was built on top of the brick citadel.  The citadel was demolished down to the first floor, which was actually underground and is still accessible today.  This gave life to rumors of "dungeons" below the main cell block.

Alcatraz closed as a military prison in 1934 but was soon taken over by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a maximum security prison, undergoing modernizations such as tool-proof bars and electricity in each cell.  Gun galleries, which were elevated and surrounded by bars, allowed guards to safely carry weapons to quell any uprisings.  Teargas canisters were permanently installed in the dining area and could be activated remotely in order to fully incapacitate all prisoners in the room.  Due to the maximum occupancy being established as 300, only blocks B through D were modernized.  A block was not used to house prisoners and still exists as it was built in 1912.

United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island was made famous by both its menacing location and the reputation of its inhabitants.  While the prison did house famous criminals such as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly, the majority of the prisoners were those who would not conform to the rules and regulations of other prisons, who were considered violent and dangerous, or were considered as escape risks.  Regulations were many and were strictly enforced but the living conditions were actually very good by prison standards.  There was never more than one man to each cell and the prisoners were allowed to eat as much as they wished with the condition of "eat what you take" being enforced.  Some inmates in other prisons actually requested transfers to Alcatraz.  After 29 years of operation, the prison was officially closed in 1963 due to the extremely high operating cost of maintaining it.

Unlike our trip to the
U.S.S. Hornet two nights earlier, our investigation of Alcatraz was a dream come true.  We had access to the entire prison and island for the entire night and even had access to some areas, such as the infirmary, only open to guided tours.  The security guard even realized we were being careful and respectful with the location and treated us accordingly.  We only wish more in positions such as his were as professional with their duties.  The experience alone is enough to make us want to go back and see if we can catch something more.
Home About ARG Information Investigations Equipment Evidence Links Contact Us