Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alcatraz Tour

When we were planing our trip to San Francisco one of the first things I said was, " I want to see Alcatraz". Having seen movies over the years like "The Rock and Escape From Alcatraz", I was curious to see how the "real" rock looked. I was surprised to learn that Alcatraz was actually used for several purposes other than a Federal Prison.

While there isn't a charge to visit the island you must take a ferry to get to the island. The ferry company offers many choices of times and we decided to go in the evening so we could see the lights of San Francisco from the island and boat. It was difficult to get a clear picture at night while on the boat.

In 1775, the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to sail into what is now known as San Francisco Bay. His expedition mapped the bay, and named one of the three islands Alcatraces. Over time, the name was changed to Alcatraz. While the exact meaning isn't really known, Alcatraz is usually defined as meaning "pelican" or "strange bird."

Alcatraz became the first long-term Army prison. The first prisoners to be brought in to Alcatraz were Civil War and Spanish American War Prisoners during the 1800s. As the number of inmates increased, the prison structure was also extended and renovated. By the 1920s, the three-story building was almost at full capacity.

Alcatraz Island was declared a military reservation in 1850 and troops had arrived by 1859. For almost eighty years the Island was the site of the first fortress and military prison on the west coast.

Due to its isolated location and the extremely cold San Francisco Bay waters, the authorities considered Alcatraz as an ideal place for holding dangerous prisoners. Criminals like George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Al Capone are some of the most famous inmates to claim residence on Alcatraz.

Alcatraz operated for a full 29 years and during that time, there has been no known case of any successful escape attempts. In 1962, three prisoners - Clarens Anglin, his brother John and Frank Morris – disappeared from the premises and were never found. But nobody knows if they ever reached the shore.

From the mid 1930's until the mid 1960's, Alcatraz was America 's premier maximum-security prison, the final stop for the nation's most incorrigible inmates.

On March 21, 1963, when the prison was closed, Alcatraz had already accommodated 1033 prisoners.

From November 1969 until June 1971, the American Indians inhabited the island. Since October 1972, Alcatraz has been a historic site and is part of the "Golden Gate National Recreation Area" ran by the National Park Service.

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