This was such an interesting trip on the perfect day. It was sunny, yet incredibly windy and made for a bit of a bouncy, scary ride across on the boat to Alcatraz Island – you could imagine what it must have been like for the inmates. Apparently there is a night tour but I’m afraid this was creepy enough for this girl in the day, thanks… 0_o As you dock, you’re greeted with a large painted sign that states: Warning persons procuring or concealing the escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution & imprisonment. Very ominous even though this prison has been closed since 1963. As you walk towards the cell house there is another old, large warning sign:
United States Penitentiary
Area: 12 acres.
1.5 miles to transport dock.
Only government boats permitted.
Others must keep off 200 yards.
No one allowed ashore without a pass.
You quickly note the guard towers, the bars on the windows & the desolation here yet when you turn around – the ocean & stunning views of the city of San Francisco… I imagine it must have been torturous for the inmates to see this out their window every day of their incarceration. It was said that certain times when the wind was just right, the inmates could hear the laughter & shouting of boaters, transport boats & seagulls. It is about 1/4 mile nearly straight up to get to the cell house (there is a little transport shuttle that can take those unable to walk between the dock & the prison building). There are outdoor interpretive walks, self guided tours, an orientation video (Alcatraz: Stories from the Rock), exhibits, an audio tour in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, French, Mandarin & Dutch & even 3 bookstores with memorabilia. We wanted to take in the audio tour but soon learned that there was an actual former inmate in the bookstore signing his autobiography that very day.
William G. Baker #1259, was 23 when he was sent to Alcatraz – he was originally in for car theft but continued to escape 3 other prisons so was sent to The Rock. While ‘inside’ he learned to become one of the world’s *ahem* best counterfeiters. He is one of only three free, surviving former inmates of Alcatraz. The audio tour was extremely well done, it was narrated by four former guards & four former inmates. As you walked along there was even the clanging of cell doors, interactions between the prisoners themselves & points of views from both guards & inmates. Alcatraz had to be shut down in 1963 due to deteriorating buildings, the lack of stage system & high operating costs. Alcatraz was never filled to capacity – the average was about 260 inmates, although the highest was 320. There are four actual cellblocks with D Block being Isolation. Al Capone was here from 1934 – 1938. Robert ‘The Birman’ Stroud arrived in 1942 where he was placed to D Block (Isolation) until in 1959 when he was moved to a medical facility in Missouri. Some of the officers even lived in apartments, houses or in the duplex on the island. The warden lived on the island with his family too. In the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary, 36 prisoners tried to escape. All but 5 were recaptured or otherwise unaccounted for. Three who were unaccounted for participated in the same breakout, the June 1962 escape (this event was made into a movie called Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood). Eight inmates were murdered here by other inmates, five committed suicide & fifteen died of natural cause, including disease. This is such an excellent trip & we booked it through Green Dream Tours (greendreamtours.com) along with the Wine Tour to Sonoma. Both guides, Chris of our wine tour & BB of our Hop On Hop Off tour were excellent!