Alcatraz Island – San Francisco’s most wanted tourist attraction

Catch a boat to one of San Francisco’s most popular sights, Alcatraz. Also known as “The Rock” this 22 acre island is famous for America’s most secure federal prison. But its history doesn’t stop there; Alcatraz Island is home to the West Coast’s very first lighthouse, served as a Civil War fortress, and later a military prison for soldiers undergoing punishment and retraining. Today, it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Infamous Inmates

Alcatraz took in some pretty notorious convicts; Al Capone “Scarface”, George Celino Barnes “Machine Gun Kelly”, and Robert Stroud the “Birdman of Alcatraz” to name a few. Prison conditions were actually considered favorable by some, with privileges granted to behaving inmates. Monthly movies, good food, and a library of 15,000 books were just some of the reasons why criminals requested transfers to this facility. Prisoners at Alcatraz hadn’t necessarily committed the most heinous crimes, but were considered the federal system’s most disobedient.

Other interesting facts about Alcatraz Island

  • Alcatraz operated as a maximum security prison for just 29 years, between 1934 – 1963
  • It was the most expensive prison of any state or federal institution, and closed due to high operating costs
  • The guard to prisoner ratio was 1:3, keeping a close eye on the inmates every movement
  • 36 convicts attempted escape: 23 were captured, 6 shot, 2 drowned, and 5 went missing
  • Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin’s attempted breakout inspired the film “Escape from Alcatraz”
  • The island was first known as La Isla de los Alcatraces, meaning “Island of the Pelicans” due to its resident colonies
  • Federal officials initially doubted that escaping inmates could survive the swim to mainland
  • Prisoner John Paul Scott greased himself with lard, squeezed through a window and swam to shore
  • Today hundreds complete the 1.5 mile swim to the mainland for the ‘Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon’

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