You might say Alcatraz Island is famous for its birds. Certainly there are plenty of sea gulls, but I’m thinking more about its jailbirds.
Yes, there was the “Bird Man of Alcatraz” Robert Stroud. Some of America’s most infamous, notorious felons were imprisoned at the facility. There was “Machine Gun Kelly”, Public Enemy #1-Alvin Karpis, Al Capone, and Mickey Cohen.
The last time Alcatraz was featured as a major news story was during the Native Americans’ occupation of the island in 1970. This is a story worth reading at: https://bluejayblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/occupy-alcatraz/
To my knowledge, Alcatraz is the only former prison that is administered by the National Park Service as a National Monument. It’s certainly one of the most popular attractions for visiting tourists to San Francisco. If you love history and spooky, “haunted” places, I recommend boarding a contracted ferry and taking a guided tour of the old facility.
Alcatraz’s place in American history began in the 1860s when it was a military prison and citadel. The main cellhouse was modernized in the 1930s and became the main building when the facility became a Federal Penitentiary. It was used as the prison of “last resort”, to house the “worst of the worst” criminals who had no hope of rehabilitation.
Alcatraz was nicknamed “The Rock” and reputed to be escape-proof. At it’s peak, the maximum security prison housed some 200 inmates in the 1950s. Some of the most advanced security technology, of the time, was used on the island. Strict rules about silence were enforced at all times.
Unfortunately, for Alcatraz, the facility was a major white elephant. All the food, water, and employees had to be brought in by boats, since it was in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Due to its physical isolation, electricity had to be generated on site.
In addition, Alcatraz was on the west coast. That meant high security risk prisoners sometimes had to be transported across the entire country. The costs and logistics were a major problem for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Also troubling was the fact that the buildings are constantly subjected to saltwater spray. The concrete and the steel reinforcements continually erode and corrode.
Of great concern was the environmental impact of the prison. Raw sewage was dumped directly into San Francisco Bay. To avoid this problem would have required the construction of an expensive, on-site sewage treatment plant. To add insult to injury, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy wanted Alcatraz closed because it was an example of how not to treat prisoners.
A new prison, more centrally located, was constructed near Marion, Illinois. Other maximum security prisons were also planned and constructed to contain the influx of prisoners through the years.
The first months of 1963, saw the downsizing of the prison population at Alcatraz. The last batch of prisoners departed the aging facility on March 21, 1963. The media was invited to witness the departure of the remaining 27 inmates. The last prisoner to leave reportedly said, “Alcatraz was never no good for nobody.”
At the end of it’s official status as a Federal Prison, a military-style ceremony took place with officers leaving the guard towers, one-by-one. The final closure took place in traditional military formation.
From 1963 until the Indian Occupation in 1970, Alcatraz was abandoned Federal property under General Services Administration supervision. Rudimentary upkeep was handled by maintenance workers. Following the 1970 Native American incident, the National Park Service took over to plan renovations and the process was begun to annex Alcatraz Island into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.