One of the most recognizable landmarks in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (otherwise known as “The Rock”) served as a prison from 1934 until 1963. The location, an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, was determined to be the best place to build a prison for the most notorious criminals in the states since it would be extremely difficult to escape from.
Alcatraz became known worldwide for housing some infamous criminals like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. During its operation, the prison was considered to be one of the most secure facilities in the world, and escape attempts were rare. There were a few attempts, including the “Battle of Alcatraz” in 1946, a failed escape in 1962 that resulted in the death of several inmates and a few other minor incidents. No prisoners actually managed to escape the prison, despite 14 different escape attempts involving 36 men.
Despite the success from a security standpoint, the prison was eventually closed due to high operating costs and poor conditions for both inmates & staff. Part of the high operating costs were due to its remote location and the high cost of transferring supplies, staff and prisoners. In the years that followed, Alcatraz became a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world who are curious about its history and infamous past. Today, you can tour the prison and learn about its history through guided tours, museum exhibits, and audio tours.
Interesting Facts about Alcatraz:
- Alcatraz is Spanish for “pelican”, which was once a common sight on the island.This was derived from the original name for the Island “La Isla de los Alcatraces”, which was named by Spanish Naval Officer, Juan Manuel de Ayala.
- The island was once a military fort and was used to detain Civil War prisoners.
- Al Capone was one of the most famous inmates at Alcatraz and served time there for tax evasion. During his time at the prison, Capone played banjo in an inmate band.
- The “Battle of Alcatraz” was a violent uprising by inmates in 1946 that resulted in the death of two guards and three inmates.
- The island is also home to the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. It was built on June 1, 1854 as the very first navigation lamp on the west coast of the United States.
- There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz during its time as a federal prison, however there were 3 inmates (Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin) who made an attempt and were never heard from again. It is assumed that they died during the escape attempt, however their bodies were never found. The FBI still has an open case for the missing prisoners and recently released age-progressed images of the 3 men.
- Prisoners in Alcatraz were given 4 rights during their incarceration. The rights were clothing, medical care, food and shelter. Anything else was considered a privilege
How to get to Alcatraz:
If you are interested in checking out Alcatraz, it is definitely worth a visit. However, it is one of the attractions in San Francisco that requires some planning before you go. You can grab a ticket to Alcatraz, which includes a ferry ride, time to explore the island and a free audio tour to listen to as you walk through the prison, however they tend to sell out far in advance. If tickets are sold out, the only option is to purchase a tour package. While this is a more expensive option, the tours offer addition options like a trip to Muir Woods, a sightseeing tour, lunch and more.
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