San Francisco is steeped in dark history and sweeping death, but nothing quite compares to Alcatraz Island about one mile north of the city. It houses the the notorious Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, in use from 1934 to 1963. It was first conceived as a lighthouse, then military fort, then a federal prison where it was believed that strong currents and cold water made escape impossible. It also proved too costly to maintain and staff. After the prison was closed, a group of Native Americans occupied the island. In 1986, it was designated a National Historical Landmark and now run by the National Park Service.
I attended an infamous night tour, arriving by ferry just as the sun was setting. It is an imposing sight and while the city is within view, feels incredibly isolated. You immediately feel a sense of dread and even though I was surrounded by tourists everyone was strangely quiet. We gathered near the Warden's house as the last of the light faded and the cold really took hold. The audio tour was quite scary detailing specific inmates and riots with things like, in the spot you are standing in a mass riot left pools of blood and dead bodies. Shivers.
The large group dispersed through the area and many times I was alone. Standing in the cells was absolutely terrifying in near darkness and you could feel the impressions of much suffering and torment... and a lot of seething anger. Nothing about that place was pleasant and all of it felt cursed. The shower room was easily the most heartpounding spot and the site of much violence. I couldn't wait to leave and felt very relieved once we were back on the ferry. I didn't even want to look back at the island once we sailed away feeling hundreds of eyes peering back at us. To this day, it is still the single place I actually fear and will never go back.