This portion of the web doesn't cover current events. The four characters (N.E.W.S.) represents the compass points: North, East, West and South. Here you will find information about various world-wide destinations. This page is updated with facts and images on a number of destinations. Previous themes and topics have been moved to the ARCHIVE section of the web.
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If You Go:
"Alcatraz was never no good for nobody." — Frank Weatherman, March 21, 1963
(the last prisoner to leave Alcatraz)
Considered by many as America's "Devils Island", Alcatraz Prison is the most famous federal penitentiary. Home to the worst of the worst, it was surrounded by the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, had no cells against an outside wall, and — with its seemingly never ending prisoner counts — earned the title "escape proof".
San Francisco & Alcatraz Island
In 1775 Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala sailed into and charted the San Francisco Bay. He named one island “La Isla de los Alcatreces” (the Island of the Pelicans) because of the large number of pelicans nesting there. In 1850 the island became property of the United States and by 1858 the spelling of its name was changed to “Alcatraz”. The Corp of Engineers constructed a military fort there that included a prison which housed Civil War confederate sympathizers, rebellious Indians and prisoners from the Spanish American War.
Alcatraz officially became a federal prison on August 11, 1934, with the arrival of 137 prisoners. It soon home to some of the most notorious criminals of American history, including Alphonse "Scarface" Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Alvin “Creepy Karpis" Karpavicz, Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, and L.A. mobster Mayer "Mickey" Cohen. However, the prison was never filled to capacity; there was always an empty cell for one more inmate.
The Rock from the Wharf
The long walk to
the cell block.
It’s harsh environment, strict rules, and isolated location led prisoners to give it the moniker “the Rock”. In its early days even talking between prisoners was prohibited and any infractions led to swift, and often severe, punishment. The worst was solitary confinement, where prisoners spent days or weeks in light-proof cells of solid metal, and slept on cold, concrete floor.
Every prison has its escape attempts, and Alcatraz, although surrounded by the cold waters of San Francisco Bay, had its share. In its time as a federal penitentiary only 14 attempted escapes were made. Many were desperate and futile attempts to flee the penitentiary. Most escapees were captured, a few were shot attempting to flee, and a number drown in the frigid waters.
One of the most well thought out attempts occurred in 1945. On July 31st, inmate John K. Giles, who worked in the prison laundry cleaning uniforms for the nearby military facility, donned an army uniform he managed to steal over a number of months. When the shuttle boat arrived on that day, Giles, dressed as a Tech Sergeant, calmly boarded the boat. A quick count on the boat showed one solder too many. A similar count at the prison showed one inmate too few. When the boat arrived at its destination the police was there to meet Giles and take him into custody.
Prison guard uniform
The deadliest escape attempt occurred on May 2, 1946, when three inmates managed to overpower the guard in a gun cage and get their hands on a couple of weapons. They were joined by others, eventually taking nine guards hostage. Not knowing the number of prisoners involved or how well they were armed, the prison staff called on the assistance of a detachment of U.S. Marines to help put down the uprising. After a two day siege the action was over. During that time three inmates and two guards were killed. Of the remaining inmates, three were additionally charged with attempted escape and two were sentenced to death in the killing of the guards, while the third received an additional 99 years added to his sentence. The uprising became known as the Battle of Alcatraz.
On June 11, 1962, the most famous escape took place when Frank Morris and three other inmates attempted to flee that institution. Leaving dummy heads on their cots, they headed for the cell block roof through opening they dug at a ventilation grille. (One inmate was late for the rooftop meeting and returned to his cell.) They swam away on improvised life rafts made from rubber raincoats and none were ever heard from again. The official take is they all drown in the cold, swift bay currents. These events later inspired the movie Escape from Alcatraz.
The most successful known escape occurred on December 12, 1962. John Paul Scott spent two hours swimming the frigid waters from the prison to the rocky shore under the Golden Gate Bridge. Exhausted, he collapsed on the shore where he was spotted by a group of passing teenagers, who called the Presidio Military Police. He was returned to the prison later that day.
The Exercise Yard.
Leaving The Rock.
On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz prison officially closed due to the immense cost of running the facility (three times that of other prisons), the erosion of the steel and concrete by the salty sea air, and the pollution its sewage caused the San Francisco bay. It was temporarily occupied by Native Americans before becoming part of the National Park Service in 1972. Today, as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it receives over 1.3 million visitors each year. A boat ride from the San Francisco wharf shuttles visitors back and forth, and for a few brief hours they can experience life on the Rock.
Getting to Alcatraz: Ferries depart for Alcatraz every half hour starting at 9:00 AM from Pier 33 just south of Fisherman's Wharf. (Operating hours vary with the season, and trips can be cancelled due to inclement weather.) Tickets are $30 per person (adult), and minors under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations are required; tickets do sell out, especially during weekends and holidays, so it is advisable to book your passage several weeks in advance by calling (415) 981-7625 or at www.alcatrazcruises.com.
Tours: The audio tour is provided with the purchase of your ferry ticket. A self-guided walking audio tour of the prison is provided wiht the purchase of your ferry ticket. The tour is available in several languages.
Food and Drink: There is no food service available on the island, but there is a snack bar on the ferry. Eating, drinking (other than bottled water), and smoking is allowed at the dock level only. There are two public restrooms — one is at the dock and the other near the lighthouse — which have drinking fountains. Otherwise, bottled water can be purchased at the gift shop.
Tips: Here are some other suggestions for visitors —
||The Island is run by the National Park Service, and a portion of the property is a sanctuary for seabirds. Any feeding or disturbing of the wildlife is not allowed.
||The prison is a fascinating place with much historic detail. The visitor can easily spend the better part of a day exploring the facility and learning of its past. Expect to spend at least three or more hours touring the prison.
||Plan to do much walking, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
||Bring a light jacket; conditions on the island may be chilly and windy even if the weather at the ferry terminal is agreeable.