Photos, Ferry, Times and Tours
Oldest lighthouse on the west coast
Blue Angles flying above the Island
Guard Lookout Tower
Prisoner exercise yard
American Indians own this island they claim
Island trash incinerator smoke stack
Buildings left over from the 1906 earthquake
Golden Gate Bridge view at sunset
Prison Guard display
Alcatraz Park Ranger - Tour guide
Alcatraz Breakout attempt
Keep off prison warning sign
Lake Tahoe Cam
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Webmaster and Photographer: Doug Kunst (Updated 2013)
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Alcatraz was a military installation established in 1850 and later became a military prison until 1933. The United States Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz were acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933. The island became a federal prison on August, 1934. During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held such notable criminals as Al Capone; Robert Franklin Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz; and Alvin Karpis, who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate. It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prison staff and their families. Today the family members that occupied the island and called it home can join the Alcatraz Alumni Association and participate in the annual reunion that celebrates the opening of the prison the second weekend of August. Most family members have favorite stories they share of their experiences growing up on the rock.
The penitentiary was closed for good on March 21, 1963. The prison closed because it was far more expensive to operate than other prisons, and the bay was being polluted by the sewage from the approximately 250 inmates and 60 Bureau of Prison families on the island. It was easier to build a new, traditional land-bound prison than to pay for all the upkeep and support the Alcatraz prison required.
In 1969, a group of American Indians from many different tribes, calling themselves Indians of All Tribes (many were relocated to the Bay Area under the federal Termination program), occupied the island, and proposed an education center, ecology center, and cultural center. During the occupation, several buildings got damaged or destroyed, including the recreation hall, Coast Guard quarters, and the Warden's home. A number of other buildings (mostly apartments) were destroyed by the U.S. Government the occupation ended. After 18 months of occupation, the government forced them off. But the end of Termination and the new policy of self-determination were established in 1970 as a direct result of the occupation. Today American Indian groups, for example the International Indian Treaty Council, hold ceremonies on the island. Most notable is Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day when they hold a "Sunrise Gathering".
The island is also known as "The Rock," and it was featured in a movie of the same name. Dozens of movies have featured Alcatraz since 1937.
During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary never logged any officially successful escapes. In all attempts escapees were either shot dead or believed to be drowned in the frigid San Francisco Bay. Thirty-six prisoners were involved in attempts; seven were shot and killed, two drowned, five unaccounted for, the rest recaptured. Two prisoners made it off the island but were returned, one, in 1945 and one in 1962. Three escapees, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, disappeared from their cells on June 11, 1962. This attempt, popularized in the motion picture Escape from Alcatraz, was among the most intricate ever devised. Though only some evidence was found that they died in their attempt, they are officially listed as "missing and presumed drowned." Plywood paddles and parts of a raft made from raincoats were found on Angel Island by the FBI. It is very likely that they did die in their attempt as, after all these years, no one has surfaced claiming to be or even to have seen the escapees.
In 2003, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, the co-hosts of the television series MythBusters, sought to prove whether the escapees could have survived. Using similar materials to those used by the three convicts, they constructed an inflatable raft from a large quantity of rubber raincoats and made plywood paddles. Hyneman and Savage selected a date when the tide direction and rate matched that of the escape attempt. With another crew member, Will Abbot, standing in for the third prisoner, they were able to paddle with the outgoing tide to the Marin Headlands, near the North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Both Hyneman and Savage agreed that the escape could have succeeded, though the actual fate of the prisoners is unknown.
Conversely, tests using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scale model of San Francisco Bay indicated that paddles or other debris thrown into the water from the landing location would be carried by the returning tide to Angel Island. This proved that escape was possible with the resources available to the escapees and provided an explanation for the location of the escape debris found by the FBI.
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