Escape from Alcatraz

Madame TussaudsToday was the day. We would be visiting the number one place on our haunted locations bucket list: Alcatraz. To say we were excited would be a massive understatement. Think Jason Vorhees on Thursday 12th. Think Freddy Krueger at bedtime. Think Leatherface at a chainsaw sale. Except we wouldn’t be butchering teenagers in hilariously creative ways. We’re saving that for Halloween 😉 We started the “Alcatraz! Alcatraz!” chant from the moment we got out of bed.

Madame TussaudsWe caught a tram to pier 39 and found the Alcatraz gift shop! We’d heard there was a gift shop and threatened to blow our budget in there, but we weren’t sure where it was or if it truly existed. Y’know, like unicorns and happily ever afters. But there it was, looking at us with its ‘come hither’ windows and we were powerless to resist. And like we promised, we spent more in that one shop than we probably had all holiday. Absolutely no regrets. Especially seeing as it was other people we were spending money on. Though we did buy ourselves Alcatraz pyjamas.

P1120602We wandered to the harbour edge and found sea lions sunning themselves on jetties. They were so cute. But they stank. There were loads of them! They were clambering over each other and making noises. We spent a long time looking at them and took a ridiculous amounts of photos of them. Cuteness must be captured. Then we looked up. We could see Alcatraz in the distance!

P1120603Next we went to Madam Tussauds. We posed with Johnny Depp at the entrance – we didn’t need to see anymore, but we’d paid so we went in. The models are so detailed – even their body hair. There were some that we had no idea who they were – some sports stars and pop stars. We played Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ then danced with Madonna. We played a drum kit (badly) and had a disco with John Travolta. Well, he was on the dance floor by himself.

Madame Tussauds

with Al Capone

It seemed rude to make him dance alone. Luckily the other tourists were not around yet. And they even provided dressing up clothes and props for us. We’re buggers for dressing up. There were sparkly black jackets for posing with Michael Jackson, red hoodies for posing with ET and a bathtub with a knife for Alfred Hitchcock. There were three of each jacket – it was like it was made for us. We also sat in a cell with Al Capone. Seeing as we’d hopefully be meeting his ghost later, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. At the entrance, we posed with Captain America. We didn’t grope this one though. Sorry Cap, but there were witnesses and we know you’re a good Christian boy.

P1120692We then headed to pier 45 to meet Marcia before going to the Gold Dust for a drink while we waited for our Dungeons tour. We got to discuss favourite punk rock bands with the barman and tried convincing him to switch the American football game off in favour of his punk rock DVDs. MCR were on there! Jesus Christ their vodka measures are generous! We had one vodka and lemonade and were tipsy. First time we’ve ever gone to the Dungeons drunk. It started with the gold rush guy, Sutter. Marcia had to spin a wheel to determine our fate. It landed on retribution, so we went into a lift and went down to a talking head, which might have had something to do with the gold rush. Madame TussaudsAfter that, we went to the torturer, who, as usual, picked a guy to demonstrate the anal hook and chappie chopper. We chanted ‘chappie chopper!’ throughout his torture. After that was the judge. Lynx got picked as Black Bart, a poet and thief. The judge accused her of 28 crimes. She corrected him. It was 29. We then went into Miss Piggots’ bar, where we were all shanghai’ed. Sadly, the boat ride was under maintenance so we went to the doctor, who picked a guy who had the plague. The final part was Alcatraz with the ghost of a dead prisoner who played a harmonica. That was the best part.

Madam Tussauds

Psycho Lynx

We went back to the Gold Dust, but we had Red Bull this time, as we haven’t liked any of the vodka and lemonades we’ve had in America. There isn’t enough lemonade. For food, we went to the Hard Rock Café. Their fries are vegan! And we ordered a red berry press, with vodka, and fruit at the bottom, which you crushed to get the flavour. It was delicious! We only bought one between us, because it was large and we haven’t had much luck with drinks. It was by far the best we’ve had, apart from the strawberry Dakari in Vegas.

Madam Tussauds

Cat and Audrey Hepburn

Then it was time for Alcatraz! There were well over a hundred people queuing. We didn’t think there would be that many. We knew instantly any atmosphere the jail contained would be killed. We kinda hoped we’d be put on two separate ferries and the first ferry would get hopelessly lost, or hijacked by the sealions. Sadly, we were all on one ferry. We kept watch for the sealions. AlcatrazWe stood outside at the bow so we’d have the best view for arriving. We tried to read our information on route, but every time we started speaking, a woman gave everyone facts about Alcatraz for the whole journey, so we couldn’t do it. Hey, we’re trying to be professionals here! It was sunset as we crossed so we got some gorgeous shots of the Golden Gate Bridge with the sun going down behind it. And of a pelican flying past the sun, which was perfect, as Alcatraz means pelican. The trip over was smooth – Lynx didn’t feel sick once. A ranger asked why everyone was at Alcatraz. No one spoke up. Lynx “Ghosts!” Neen “Don’t say ghosts.” Cat “Dead people!” No one else offered a reason for their visit.

AlcatrazIn 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, discovered the island and named it La Isla de los Alacatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, as they were its first inhabitants. In 1850, president Millard Fillmore signed an order claiming the island for military use. In 1859, the US Army established a fort there and installed 100 canons around it, which guarded San Francisco Bay until 1907 when it became a military prison. Prisoners included Confederate sympathisers and those accused of treason during the Civil War. Native Americans were also held there, including 19 Hopis from the Arizona territory for land disputes with the federal government. Alcatraz was also home to the first west coast lighthouse. During the early 20th century, inmates built a new 600 cell block, which still stands, along with a hospital, mess hall and other buildings. They finished in 1912 and it was deemed the world’s largest reinforced concrete building.

Alcatraz

guard house and sally port

In 1933, the army gave Alcatraz to the US Justice Department to house criminals too dangerous for other prisons. It opened July 1st 1934 after improvements were made to make it more secure. The first prison warder, James A Johnston hired 1 guard for every 3 prisoners and each prisoner had his own cells. From 1934-1963 it was a maximum security federal penitentiary, housing 264 of the country’s most infamous prisoners, which represented less than 1% of the prison population. They dubbed the prison ‘The Rock’. They were sent there for disobedience while serving sentences elsewhere. The Federal Bureau of Prisons believed staying there with sparse conditions and minimum privileges would teach the prisoners to follow rules. Prisoners spent between 16 and 23 hours in 5′ by 9′ cells equipped only with a bunk and a toilet. Famous inmates include Al Capone who was convicted in 1934 for tax evasion. He spent a lot of his five year stint at Alcatraz in an isolation cell and was mentally unstable when he was discharged.

Alcatraz

watch tower and barracks

Robert Stroud spent most of his 17 year stretch in solitary confinement. Unlike in the film, The Birdman of Alcatraz he was forbidden from keeping birds in his cell, like he had been at Leavenworth. Another film, Escape From Alcatraz depicts the story of the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence and Frank Morris, who chipped through the walls of their cells, hiding the holes with cardboard grates. They made a raft to escape and were never caught. Alcatraz’s most dangerous prisoner was George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, who served 17 years for kidnapping and extortion. Gangster Alvin ‘Creepy Karpis’ Karpowicz, who was listed as Public Enemy Number 1 by the FBI in the 1930s, spent 25 years at Alcatraz, more than any other prisoner.

AlcatrazThere were 14 known escape attempts, involving 36 prisoners. FBI reports state 23 were captured, 6 were shot and killed during the attempt, 2 drowned and 5 went missing and were presumed drowned. From May 2-4 1946, 6 prisoners overpowered wardens and were able to get weapons but not keys. They killed 2 correctional officers and injured 18 others. The US Marines were called in, resulting in 3 of the prisoners dying (Bernard Coy, Marvin Hubbard and Joe Cretzer) and three others put on trial. 2 received the death penalty. During it’s time as a prison, 8 people were murdered by inmates, a guard was murdered in the laundry room in the 1930s, 2 died during the 1946 escape attempt and 5 inmates were killed in random attacks. Five committed suicide and many died trying to escape.

Alcatraz

water tower

It’s reputedly haunted by Native Americans who died on the island during the American Civil War and at the military prison. Prisoners who after serving time were deemed insane reported hearing whispering in the middle of the night, floating blue lights and figures, moaning and chains clanking in unoccupied cells. One prisoner in D Block saw glowing red eyes and screamed for hours. In the morning he was found dead with a purple face, bulging eyes and strangulation marks around his throat.

Alcatraz

the morgue

Guards initially dismissed the prisoners’ stories until they experienced stuff too – cold spots, fingers on the backs of their necks and crying in the middle of the night. The first warden of Alcatraz, James A Johnston heard a woman sobbing while he conducted a tour of the jail. Prisoners saw other prisoners wearing 19th century clothing from the military prison and someone else saw a gang of Native American prisoners marching in a circle before vanishing. There have also been phantom gun fire, cannon blasts and fire alarms going off on their own.

Alcatraz

us with Ranger Tim

The Warden House, which is now a burnt shell after the Occupation of Alcatraz is haunted. During a party, a man in a grey suit with mutton chop sideburns and a brimmed cap was seen. He left the room icy cold and extinguished the fire in the Ben Franklin stove. A phantom lighthouse materialises in the fog of San Franciso Bay.

Alcatraz

hospital wing

Former inmate Leon ‘Whitey’ Thompson also worked as a guide and visited the prison many times before he died in 20005. He believed Alcatraz was haunted and often felt watched. He believed the prison was damned. He was friends with another inmate, a Texan called Johnny Haus.  He last saw him when he left the prison on 25th October 1962 and knew he’d never see him again. But in the 1980s when he was in a cell, waiting for a tour, he saw a large, dark figure at the end of the Michigan Avenue corridor. It walked around the corner and out of sight. From the way it walked and the feeling it gave off, he believed it was Haus.

Alcatraz

in the hospital wing

Screams, clanging and crying have been heard. A ranger reported hearing banjo music coming from the old shower room once. Only one prisoner was allowed to play his banjo in the prison – Al Capone. Another ranger also heard the banjo in the shower room and visitors to that area report chills there with one visitor saying he felt fingers touch his neck but there was no-one behind him. Sounds of a harmonica being played have also been heard.

Alcatraz

Robert Stroud’s cell

George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelley apparently haunts the church with Alvina ‘Creepy Karpis’ Karpowicz haunting the kitchen and bakery. Voices from the hospital wards are heard. A husband and wife claimed to have heard canaries in the Birdman’s cell and saw him reading a book, but he wasn’t allowed to keep birds in Alcatraz.

Alcatraz

operating theatre

While in cellblock D, Ghost Adventures step inside the solitary confinement Cell 13 which many have seen glowing red eyes responsible for killing an inmate and examine the 1953 escape attempt.  D Block is apparently the most haunted, with 4 of the 42 cells experiencing activity, especially cells 11,12,13 and 14. Cell 14 was the solitary confinement cell (the hole) and is the most haunted. It’s permanently cold, even in summer and 20-30 F colder than anywhere else.

AlcatrazIn Block C Utility Passageway, where a bloody uprising took place in 1946, a National Park employee heard loud, clanging noises, but the sounds stopped when he opened the door. When he closed the door, the noises started again. In the Hospital ward for the maimed, crazed prisoners, park personnel have heard voices. Also in Block C, in 1984, Ranger Rex heard the loud sound of a heavy door swinging back and forth while he was on night duty. He could find no logical explanation for it. Abie Maldowitz (aka the Butcher) apparently haunts C Block. He was murdered in the laundry room.

AlcatrazIn Blocks A & B, loud screams have been heard, along with running footsteps and crashing sounds. Cells in 14 D were the infamous solitary confinement cells. Steel boxes were kept here. The cells are always cold and psychics feel intense impressions, with stronger impressions being felt in the corners of the cells.

Officials for Alcatraz dismiss any claims of it being haunted.

AlcatrazWhen we docked, we managed to get left behind to take photos and film. A ranger was hanging back, rounding up the stragglers, so we convinced him to have a photo with us. We didn’t think he’d say yes, but he did. Tim Cook, was his name and he’d only been there 3 weeks. You know our talent for seeking out the newbies at any haunted location. We were the last into Alcatraz and we asked if we could visit the hospital before the audio tour, hoping we’d have it to ourselves. They let us, but we only had two minutes before everyone else joined us. The hospital is only open for the night tour. It was quite funny watching everyone dutifully file around with their headphones on. We were the only ones doing our own things.

AlcatrazWe were trying to film information about Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz, but at no point were we alone in the cell. We feel self-conscious doing info pieces in front of everyone, but in the end, we had no choice. Then the tourists just kept coming, so we made our way back downstairs to the audio tour starting point. As much as we wanted to listen to the audio, we were too excited and we wanted to listen for anything paranormal. We couldn’t ghost hunt and listen to a tour and we only had 2 hours there. The parts of the tour we heard were really good – they have former guards and prisoners talking to you. We’ll have to go back and do a day tour with an audio tour. No, day tour without the audio then another tour with it. Hell, just give us the damn prison for a night by ourselves.

Alcatraz

solitary confinement

We hung around in the cell areas, taking photos when everyone else had gone. Yep, over 100 people on the tour and we managed to lose them all. So long, tourists! Footsteps and voices are heard in B block, so wanted to try and experience them. Then we found the notorious D Block! In cell 14, the most haunted cell, Cat & Neen felt seasick, like the cell was swaying. They also felt it a bit in cell 13, where the demonic red eyes are seen. We asked a worker, Mike, to lock us in a solitary confinement cell, so he locked us in cell 12. We were only allowed 2 minutes, but he gave us 2 and a half. As we’d waited, about 12 people came out of that one cell. We wanted to be locked in alone. It was pitch black.

Alcatraz

D Block

By the time we finished, others were having a demonstration on how the doors worked. We didn’t come all this way to watch a video on people locking cell doors. Put key in, turn key, click. We have the gist of it. We came to find ghosts. Mike came up to us and asked if we wanted to go back to the hospital. Alone. When someone comes up and asks if we want to go to a dark, haunted area of a prison, alone, “Hell yes!” is the only sane response. We snuck up with him and he locked us in, leaving the lights off. He also took us to the out of bounds psych observation cells! We had exclusive access. See what happens when you break off from tours? You get taken off into dark, forbidden areas by a member of staff.

Alcatraz

dining hall

We returned to the cell area and interviewed a female ranger about the ghosts. She hadn’t experienced anything spooky. Then we noticed how quiet Alcatraz had become. Everyone else had left. We were then herded out. Neen disappeared halfway down and we had no idea where she was. She eventually came out of the theatre. She’d gone down some steps and through a secret tunnel they apparently told us about. We didn’t hear them so we’d missed it. We were gutted. We gave Ranger Tim one of our Calamityville business cards. We were going to give one to Mike, but couldn’t see him and had forgotten to do when we were with him.

Alcatraz

inside a secret tunnel

The boat ride back was beautiful, as San Francisco and the bridges were all lit up. We definitely went at the right time – sunset on the way, night on the way back. Marcia left when we landed so we went back to the Hard Rock Café for another drink – it’s our last night in San Francisco, so we didn’t want to head straight back. Russian tourists wanted a photo of us and we had a conversation about our Panasonic Lumix with a Native American man, before pointing out to the barman the crappy pop songs they were playing were NOT ‘Hard Rock’, therefore the restaurant name was false advertising. The barman agreed with us and said that unfortunately it was down to popular opinion. Us “we want hard rock and the customer’s always right.” Sadly, our requests were not met and we scowled through the songs until their total shittiness drove us out.Alcatraz

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery HouseThe day started with an exciting trip to Safeway. We say ‘exciting’ but only because it was our first visit into an American supermarket. In reality, it wasn’t exciting at all. It was just as expensive as the corner shop by our apartment. We were going to buy crisps, but a single bag of crisps in America is the size of a multipack bag over here, yet their cereals come in tiny boxes. Oh and their peaches are so large, we’re convinced a small boy and some insects live inside them. No, we didn’t try them. Would you want to be the person to accidentally eat James?Winchester Mystery House

We went back to our apartment to access Wi-Fi and arranged to meet our friend Marcia as she would be joining us for the Winchester Mystery House. She very kindly offered to drive us to San Jose, where the house is. It’s about an hour south of San Francisco. After an hour of failing to find each other (not having Wi-Fi or 3G is a real pain when trying to arrange a meeting place), we met up at 12 and headed off.

Winchester Mystery HouseThe Winchester Mystery House is amazing! Just as great as we thought it would be, which is a relief because normally things don’t live up to our expectations. We should probably lower our expectations, but we save that for dealing with people. We like to have some hope in our lives. The house was incredible. Sarah Winchester’s husband made the famous Winchester rifles. Following his death from Tuberculosis, a medium told Sarah she would be haunted by the spirits of everyone killed by the rifles but the only way to appease them, would be to never stop building her house. So she bought an 8 room farm house in the middle of nowhere and for 38 years until her death in 1922, builders worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a cost of $5.5 million. She paid them double the going rate.

Winchester Mystery HouseWe did the grand estate tour so we got to go round the house, the garden and behind the scenes in the outbuildings and basement. Our house guide, David was hilarious and not bad looking. And there wasn’t anyone in the group we wanted to feed into a woodchipper, which never happens. We visited 110 of the 160 rooms but weren’t allowed to take photos or film, which is annoying. We can’t produce a ghost hunting episode without filming! None of the furniture in the house is from when Sarah owned it, as it was sold off, though it is from the correct time period.

Winchester Mystery House

stables

Because there were so many rooms and the tour was quite short, we didn’t get to linger or explore anywhere. It was “This is…room.” Move on. “This is the…” Move on. When entering the servants’ quarters, Cat felt a weird wall of energy as she walked through the doorway, like passing through an invisible barrier then in the next room, had what we call ‘fishtank feeling’ – it’s the weird head rush feeling you get you put your hand into a tank of water and the water and light distorts things – It’s happened at quite a few locations now, but other than that, we experienced nothing spooky. Though we weren’t exactly long enough anywhere to experience things.

Winchester Mystery House

Foreman’s house. This was the original size of the Winchester Mystery House

A film crew was there, as they’re making a film about the house, so a small group had come to check it out, which meant we had to wait a couple of times for them to finish in a room before we were allowed to enter. Unfortunately, there were several tours going round, so even if we had manage to lose ours, we would’ve ended up in another group. We would love to explore the house on our own and do an overnight ghost hunt. Though knowing our luck, we’d fall out of the door to nowhere. We asked David if we could sleep there. He said he didn’t mind, but we’d have to be careful not to set off the motion alarms. Our sleep is as restless as a hungry zombie. That would never work.

Winchester Mystery House

water tower

Unfortunately, on the behind the scenes tour, there was a family we could’ve cheerfully fed to piranhas. They annoyed us before we’d even begun the tour. We knew doing two tours without wanting to gleefully and creatively murder someone would be too much to ask for. There is a reason we don’t work with people. The group we’d been with, were somehow on a different behind the scenes tour, which was a shame. We wanted to join them. The outbuildings were interesting – there was the fruit drying shed, stables, garage, car wash, aviary and basement. We were allowed to take photos and film on this tour, but we only filmed shots, not the actual tour. Afterwards, we filmed outside and did our information pieces, so hopefully we still have an episode. Hell, we’ve made episodes from less. And everyone watches them for the locations anyway. Like what we used to do with Most Haunted before deciding DIY dentistry was a better way to pass the time.

Winchester Mystery HouseMarcia wanted to check into her hostel in Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate Bridge, and as we wanted to cross it, we went with her. We reached it close to sunset, so the sky was kinda golden. We could see Alcatraz! Her hostel seemed like a nice place – beautiful views of Golden Gate Park and the buildings are lovely. It’s like a summer camp, but partway up a hill. It instantly reminded us of Camp Crystal Lake and we eagerly awaited the arrival of Jason Vorhees’s mother. Maybe she missed the bus. We returned as the light was failing, so the bridge was lit up, then tried to find somewhere to eat. There was a place that did homemade vegan ice cream, Pena Pachamama, so we headed there. There was nowhere to park and we ended up driving around for 40 minutes. We kept saying that we had food, we were fine, but Neen insists on us eating at least one proper meal whenever we stay somewhere.

Winchester Mystery HouseWe should’ve found somewhere else. It was packed and there was nowhere to sit. The food was mostly vegan, but nothing we’d eat. Why don’t vegan places do fries? We ordered the ice cream and a hazelnut chocolate mousse. For a drink, we had the limeade, which was made from agave – cactus (we had to ask what it was). It was sharp, but just about drinkable. The ice cream was made from almonds and wasn’t too bad. We couldn’t eat more than one spoonful of the mousse and the more we drank the agave, the worse it got. This is why we don’t go to vegan places but prefer to find places that do vegan options. From now on, we’re not going to bother looking for vegan places. If a place doesn’t have something we like, we’re happy to eat our food outside then join our companion afterwards. We did it in the airports, we’ll do it in restaurants and pubs.

Winchester Mystery House

door to nowhere

Food is a real issue with us. We can’t eat food of certain colour, texture, strong taste, smell, or if it looks a certain way. This is why we take food everywhere we go. It’s not a case of being fussy or getting away with it as kids, we physically cannot eat it. Whenever we try new food, we actually have to force feed it to ourselves. Imagine if your spoon was filled with poison or nails but you had to try it – that’s what it feels like when we’re faced with new food. It’s like a phobia. We would LOVE to be able to go out and eat whatever was put in front of us (vegan, obviously) and we envy people who can. This is how we survived not eating in Vegas – when your diet is so limited, you learn not to eat. Winchester Mystery HouseFortunately, we’re much better with drinks, so if we’re hungry, we can fill our stomachs with liquid instead. Eating is very much a social thing. So we don’t socialise that much. It’s easier than having to explain your problem and if you refuse everything you’re offered, you end up looking rude. We had this problem on the planes. Everyone else got a choice of menu. Those with specialised diets were not given an option. It was ‘this is your meal’. We ate the tiny bowl of fruit and forced down the bread roll (we can’t stand bread unless it’s toast but felt we had to eat something) and that was it, the whole 11 hours flight. Next time, we’re not going to bother putting a dietary requirement and just won’t ask for meals. It’ll be better than them having to throw away our untouched food because the smell of it makes us feel sick. The air hostess at the end of the first Virgin flight brought round Love Hearts, which we can eat, and made us take extra as we hadn’t eaten. On the flight back, the bread roll was wholemeal. White bread can be forced, wholemeal cannot.Golden Gate Bridge

But if this day had a disappointing end, the next was bound to be better.

Roll on Alcatraz!Winchester Mystery House