Alcatraz is a secluded island from the coast of San Francisco, California in the United States of America. The island was home to a prison for a long time during the 19th and the 20th century. The prison was infamous for several things but mostly for the inmates. The prison was closed in 1963.
Here are 10 facts you never knew about Alcatraz prison:
Al Capone played banjo in the inmate band
Famous Gangster Al Capone was one of the first prisoners of the new Alcatraz federal prison way back in 1934. During his stay at the prison, Al Capone reportedly bribed the officials in order to get preferences which led him to get transferred to the island prison. Later at that island prison, he became really cooperative. This led him to become a member of the Alcatraz prison band as a banjo player. The band named the Rock Islanders would perform for the other inmates every weekend.
There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz
When the prison was built, it was termed as the inescapable. But, at least 36 prisoners have managed to escape this prison in its long-standing history. Out of those 36 prisoners, 23 were later captured, six were shot to death while two others drowned. The rest five went missing and people assumed them to have drowned. The group included Frank Morris, brothers John and Clarence Anglin who escaped in 1962 in the most incredible fashion and were never found again.
Alcatraz is named for sea birds
Before criminals and gangsters named it their home, the island was home for a large number of birds, especially brown pelicans. When Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala became the first known European person to sail through the Golden gate in 1775, he famously called the island as the Island of the pelicans. Finally, the term Alcatraz was given to the Island.
“Birdman of Alcatraz” had no birds in the prison
Robert Stroud was serving a sentence in Leavenworth prison in 1916 when he stabbed a guard. Stroud was given a life of permanent solitary confinement as a punishment. During this time, he studies ornithological diseases and wrote two books in his cell in Leavenworth. When he was shifted to Alcatraz in 1942, he wasn’t allowed to keep any birds with him. Hence, the movie ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ was largely fictitious.
After the prison stood dormant for six years, Native American activists occupied Alcatraz
After being unoccupied for more than six years during the 1960s, a group of almost 100 native American activists took the island in 1969. They wanted to make a University and cultural centre on the island and they cited an 1868 treaty for that. Federal officers made sure that all the protesters were gone by June 1971, but the graffiti which they made still remains. It was later repainted and the red graffiti reads,” Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.”
Military prisoners were Alcatraz’s first inmates
Alcatraz was dedicated to military use during the 1850s, as San Francisco was becoming more and more populous. The US army began to send a lot of military prisoners to this new prison which was an Island. There were several prisoners during the civil war such as union deserters and Confederate sympathizers. The prison was also home to some of the native Americans who have issues regarding land with the government.
Alcatraz was home to the Pacific Coast’s first lighthouse
In 1854, a small lighthouse on top of the rocky island was made which became first of its kind on the west coast of the United States. The beacon became obsolete during the early 1900s as the US army built a cell house that would not allow the view of the golden gate come through. A brand new and taller lighthouse was made in 1909.
The country’s worst criminals were not automatically shipped to Alcatraz
Alcatraz was not necessarily home to the most violent criminals of the country, but it was home to the criminals who had been sent them to follow and understand some orders and rules. They are generally the ones, who had tried escaping or bribed the guards. Their stay was meant to teach them to follow the rules so that they could return to other federal facilities.
It was possible to swim to shore
Initially, officials thought that swimming to the mainland shore from Alcatraz was near to impossible as the water was really cold and had high tides. But, it happened once in 1962. John Paul Scott covered himself with lard and swam to shore. He was so exhausted that when he reached the Golden Gate bridge, he fell off being unconscious and the police later found him in a hypothermic state. Today, every year many people swim the 1.5 mile way during the escape from Alcatraz triathlon.
Inmates requested transfers to Alcatraz
There were several inmates who would choose Alcatraz once given a choice. This was because the living conditions on the island was better than that of many prisons across the country. The prison followed a one-man-per-cell policy which meant less of brawls between the inmates. The food was of better quality and there were some privileges unheard of at that time in the prisons. If an inmate was helpful then, then he would get access to monthly movies, a library with 15,000 books and 75 popular magazine subscriptions.