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Alcatraz Island

From Academic Kids

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Photograph of the island

Alcatraz Island is located in the middle of San Francisco Bay in California. It was formerly used as a military stockade and later as a maximum security prison. Today, the island is a historic site supervised by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Its name comes from the Spanish word for gannet.

It is home to the now abandoned prison, the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools, a seabird colony, and unique views of the coastline.

History

Alcatraz was a military fort from 1850 to 1933. The United States Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz were acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933. The island became a federal prison on January 1, 1934. During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held such notable criminals as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz, and Alvin Karpis, who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate. The penitentiary was closed for good on March 21, 1963. The prison closed because it was far more expensive to operate than other prisons of the time. It was easier to build a new, traditional land-bound prison than to pay for all the upkeep and support the Alcatraz prison required.

In 1969, a group of Native Americans affiliated with the American Indian Movement attempted to reclaim the land, saying that an 1868 federal treaty allowed Native Americans to use all federal territory that the government was not actively using. After nearly two years of occupation, the government forced them off.

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The interior of a regular cell in the row known as Broadway.
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An Alcatraz prisoner tag

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary never logged any officially successful escapes. In all attempts escapees were either shot dead or believed to be drowned in the frigid San Francisco Bay waters. Three escapees, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, disappeared from their cells on June 11, 1962. This attempt, popularized in the motion picture Escape from Alcatraz was among the most intricate ever devised. Though only some evidence was found that they died in their attempt, they are officially listed as "missing and presumed drowned." Plywood paddles and parts of a raft made from raincoats were found on Angel Island by the FBI. It is very likely that they did die in their attempt as, after all these years, no one has surfaced claiming to be or even to have seen the escapees.

In 2003, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, the co-hosts of the television series MythBusters, sought to prove whether the escapees could have survived. Using similar materials to those used by the three convicts, they constructed an inflatable raft from a large quantity of rubber raincoats and made plywood paddles. Hyneman and Savage selected a date when the tide direction and rate matched that of the escape attempt. With another crew member standing in for the third prisoner, they were able to paddle with the outgoing tide to the Marin Headlands, near the North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. In addition, tests using the Army Corps of Engineers scale model of San Francisco Bay indicated that paddles or other debris thrown into the water from the landing location would be carried by the returning tide to Angel Island. This proved that escape was possible with the resources available to the escapees and provided an explanation for the location of the escape debris found by the FBI.

The island is also known as "The Rock", and it was featured in a movie of the same name.

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The Rock

See also

External links

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