Alcatraz History Part II – The End of the Line. A former military garrison and military prison, in 1934 Alcatraz became a federal penitentiary. For 29 years, Alcatraz prison would become the "end of the line" for prisoners who were a discipline problem in other prisons. It was a place where inmates were punished, not rehabilitated. In the end, it was Attorney General Robert Kennedy who called for the closing of the Alcatraz Penitentiary in 1963. The prison sent the last prisoners away from Alcatraz on March 21, 1963.
To escape from Alcatraz prison required a treacherous swim to San Francisco. Today, trained triathletes can swim the course in about half an hour. Mind you, they do it without tunnelling through solid rock or slipping past armed guards under the cover of darkness. In all of Alcatraz history only 36 prisoners tried to escape in about a dozen separate attempts. 23 were caught, six shot and killed, and two drowned. There were only five men who escaped and were never seen again. It's believed that they drowned and the bodies never found.
The island lay dormant until November 1969, when American Indians seized Alcatraz and claimed it as native land. The symbolic Alcatraz Occupation became international headline news.
Richard Oakes, a young Mohawk became the unofficial leader of the Alcatraz occupation. He was a media darling and was haled as the chief of Alcatraz. However, he left the island after his 13-year-old stepdaughter Yvonne tragically died when she took a fall on the rocky shore.
After his exit in 1970, the movement began to lose ground. In 1971, federal marshals removed the final members from the island. Unfortunately, Richard Oakes was shot and killed a few years later, when he was only 30 years old. American Indians return to Alcatraz each year on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving to hold a special Sunrise Ceremony and to commemorate the Alcatraz Occupation.
1973 was another memorable year in Alcatraz history — the island was opened to the public for the first time by the National Park Service.
The response was incredible, with 50,000 visitors during the first year alone. It's estimated that more people set foot on Alcatraz island in that first year than during the whole of its previous history. Public interest continues to grow, with more than one million visitors each year.
Today, although Alcatraz is open to the public, the number of visitors is carefully controlled. All the hazards left over from the federal penitentiary days have been removed and the prison buildings have been seismically upgraded. Naturalists carefully monitor the activity of the seabirds and are happy to report that they are returning in growing numbers.
The dedicated work by the Alcatraz "Volunteers In Parks" keep Alcatraz alive by giving guided walks, monitoring the bird census, restoring the gardens and preserving the historic structures.
Tb>Today, Alcatraz Island captures the imaginations of travelers from around the world. They come to see the prison and discover the other parts of this amazing island — from the Alcatraz lighthouse and the varied bird life who nest in the rocky cliffs, to the twin foghorns that send out their deep groans as the summer fogs roll in and shroud the island in mystery.
The Garden Conservancy has made Alcatraz bloom again by restoring the gardens that had been planted by inmates, prison guards and their families. Visitors now arrive on an island alive with colorful plants.
So bright, we have to wear shades.
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