As a native Bay Area resident, I only do the tourist thing when I have a friend visiting. Pascale is one of my best friends and she has been visiting us for the past 2 weeks. On her list of things she really wanted to see was Alcatraz. We were incredibly lucky because the weather also cooperated. We had sunshine and 75 degrees out on the bay.Picture from wikipedia
The history of Alcatraz is fascinating. This island is perfectly located in the Bay to protect the entrance of the Golden Gate. Three forts were constructed before the Civil War. Two on either side of the entrance of the Bay and then there is the “Rock” at the apex of the triangle with an excelled view of the other 2 forts. During this period (1861-1868) there were 400 plus solders in residence ready to protect San Francisco and 111 cannons mounted all around the island. The guns could shoot 440 pound cannonballs three miles. Luckily, no one ever attacked San Francisco. But we were ready! In 1907, the fort was decommissioned.
Alcatraz was always used as a prison. During the Civil War, soldiers who had been convicted of serious crimes as well as Indians captured during the Indian wars were kept on the Island. From 1910-1934 Alcatraz served as a military prison.
From 1934 to 1963 it was turned into a federal prison where dangerous criminals could be safely housed. The men who were incarcerated here had proven to be problem prisoners in other prisons. There were very few celebrity prisoners on Alcatraz. There are a few names that stick out – Al Capone, Doc Barker, George Kelly and Robert Stroud, The Birdman of Alcatraz.
There were only 14 attempted prison breaks. The most famous one was in June of 1962 when 3 men disappeared from their cells. Did they make it to San Francisco or drown in the strong cold currents of the bay?
In the 1960’s Indian activists occupied the island three times. They also offered to buy Alcatraz back from the Federal government. Interest in the occupation was helped by the location and reputation of Alcatraz and by the public’s growing interest in Native American issues.
A few other facts: The lighthouse was built in 1854 and was the first built on the west coast. After the 1906 earthquake, 176 prisoners were housed on the island. Robert Stroud had canaries when he was incarcerated at Leavenworth but didn’t have any birds on Alcatraz. The only land mammal, besides humans, who lived on the island are deer mice.