Supplement, Travel & Tourism

A travel to alcatraz island of san francisco, usa

Published : 19 Feb 2020 08:54 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 10:48 PM

Colonel Shammi Firoz, psc, G+ (Retd)

Alcatraz, a twelve acres rocky Island is a prominent Iandmark in San Francisco Bay just one and a half mile from the mainland. It is best known for its 29 years as America’s Ultra Maximum-Security Prison. This island began to develop and played an important role in the formative years of the city of San Francisco and the State of California when California became part of United States.

The first Lighthouse on the West Coast of America was built at this island and also held an important military fort protecting the San Francisco Bay in 1850s. This rocky island first received its name as La isla De Los Alcatraces in 1775, when Spanish explorers charted San Francisco Bay.

I travelled to San Francisco with my wife and daughter in January 2019 for the first time and for obvious reason Alcatraz was the top priority after Golden Gate Bridge in our list of tourist attraction. It’s one and half mile from San Francisco Ferry Sites and an area of twelve acre. Alcatraz Ferries are available to go to the island every after half an hour and return that would cost approximately $ 35 per visitor.

All Alcatraz island tours depart from and return to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, located along San Francisco’s northern waterfront promenade, on The Embarcadero near the intersection of The Embarcadero and Bay Streets.

A Brief History

Geographically, the San Francisco Bay, along with the island of Alcatraz were born some 10000 years ago with the end of Ice Age. Native Americans were the island before few hundred years travelling by reed canoes to gather eggs and fishes from its rocky shores. The barren and inhospitable island buffeted by chilling fog-laden winds, had no source of fresh water and not suitable for human living, the Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to see Alcatraz while mapping the San Francisco Bay.

Fort Alcatraz

The strategic location of the island neat the entry of San Francisco Bay was perfect for defence after the discovery of gold in California in 1848. San Francisco soon became the second most important port in United States and fortifications began in 1853 that was further accelerated in 1861 with the start of the civil war. Alcatraz ceased to be a military fort in 1907

Military Prison

In 1861, only two years after the island opened as a military fortress, the civil war broke out and Alcatraz began receiving prisonets. Thus the island’s most infamous identity, that of a prison began to take hold. Among the first prisoners were soldiers and officers who either supported the cause of the Confederate states or refused to take oath of allegiance to the federal government. After the civil war, Alcatraz continued serving as a military prison.

The small prison population of the island fortress ballooned with the Spanish American War of 1898 and by 1900 about 450 men war detained there. It hosted its first civilian inmates in 1906 when fires devastated San Francisco after April 1906 earthquake and Alcatraz was officially declared as the US Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch. The subsequent prison cellhouses were built between 1909 and 1912 out of the need to build more secure detention facilities.

Alcatraz as Ultra-Maximum-Security Prison and Attempted Escapes

The first prisoners arrived from other Federal Penitentiaries in 1934 after US military abandoned the fort and its use as Military Prison. The cellhouse of the prison was built by the US Army between 1909  and 1912 that was one of the largest reinforced concreate structure of its time. There were four  cellblocks A, B, c and D that contained 600 cells on three tiers. The cellblocks stood within the cellhouse, so that no cell adjoined with an outside wall. 

If a convict somehow managed to tunnel through his cell wall, he was still inside the main prison building. It also had designated cells for solitary confinement. The US Department of Justice was looking for such a maximum-security prison where it could keep the high-profile prisoners and due to its reputation of being a grim harsh prison, Alcatraz became an obvious choice. Thus, Alcatraz began to be remembered for its 29 years as a tough and grim maximum-security Federal Penitentiary that hosted some of America’s best known and most notorious criminals. 

Criminal legends such as Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud, Alvin “Stroud, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Floyd Hamilton and Arthur “Doc” Barker (the last surviving son of the Ma Barker Gang) Settled into their cells.

Between 1936 and 1962, 36 men broke out of Alcatraz or tried to, in 14 different attempts. Of them seven were shot and killed , one was found drowned in the Bay, five went unaccounted who all were never seen or heard again and the remaining 23 were captured alive. Three guards were also killed in the escape attempts. The two most famous incidents were the 1962 “Escape from Alcatraz” 

The Alcatraz Island Today

Today, Alcatraz is just not a wind-swept rocky island with its history of being military fort and Ultra Maximum-Security Prison. Since becoming part of the National Park System’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972, Alcatraz has become one of the most popular destinations in San Francisco, USA. Nearly one million visitors go to Alcatraz Island every year and take a tour covering informative documentary, old military barracks, prison cellhouse and the scenic beauty of the bay area. Anybody travelling to San Francisco must visit Alcatraz to know the myth, history and reality along with the fantastic beauty os San Francisco Bay.