Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz IslandOut in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the Alcatraz Island is an entirely different world.

Isolation, for soldier, guard, and prisoner was the history of Alcatraz. A tour of the island offers a close-up look at this historic and infamous federal prison. Visitors explore the remnants of the prison, and learn about the Native American occupation of 1969 – 1971, early military fortifications and the West Coast’s first lighthouse.

Today, the buildings and the island’s natural features, including gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views, are under the care of the National Park Service. For prisoners, the worst torture was how close, but unattainable, life in San Francisco was and the gorgeous views. At night, prisoners could even hear parties and laughter across the bay.

The prison held Al Scarface Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud. Alcatraz has been featured in movies, including Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and The Rock with Sean Connery.  The island is a wildlife sanctuary with birds, and tide pools, western gull and black-crowned herons. Roses grow by the Warden’s old house.

During 29 years of operation, 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot, and three escaped and were never found.

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Behind the prisoners’ cells was an unguarded 3-foot wide utility corridor. The prisoners chiseled the concrete from around an air vent, using a metal spoon soldered with silver from a dime and an electric drill improvised from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor.

The escape route led up through a fan vent.  They removed the rivets from the grille and substituted dummy rivets made of soap. The escapees had constructed an inflatable raft from several stolen raincoats for the escape. Leaving papier-mâché dummies in their cells, they were gone. The prisoners entered San Francisco Bay at 10 p.m.

The escape was covered in a 2011 National Geographic Channel program entitled “Vanished from Alcatraz.” According to newly uncovered official records, a raft was discovered on Angel Island with footprints leading away from it. There was also a report of a car stolen in the area that night, which could have been used by Morris and the other escapees. However, while confirming these facts, the findings remain inconclusive. As a result, the U.S. Marshals office is still investigating this case, which will remain open on all three escapees until their 100th birthdays.

Oh, jeez.

Writer: Meredith Blevins, featured travel writer for the Authentic Wine Country.  Join her for wine-country mysteries, classes, and the untamed west.

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