One the same trip to Angel Island, I decided to make a quick stop to Alcatraz Island on the way to San Francisco. Famously known as “The Rock” this former penitentiary now lie in the ruin yet visitors still flock here every day. One possible reason why people are drawn to this island (including myself) is because it was the very prison where famously notorious personalities were once incarcerated. People such as Al Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Shroud once called Alcatraz their prison.
Most of what you will see in Alcatraz today are left as ruin. I think there is a reason why the National Park Service left the place as is. It was not a grand castle where people once lived in relative ease and luxury. It was a desolate place where people convicted of all kinds of inconceivable crime were kept and they lived to vigorous rules and harsh punishment. There is a saying, “If you commit a crime you go to prison. If you commit a crime in prison you go to Alcatraz.”
Before the prison was built, the island was a military garrison which explains why you will find a lone old cannon on the way up to the prison. It started its military history in 1850. In less than 10 years, it was a permanent garrison which was the called Alcatraces (its old name) and served as first defense in the Bay Area. It’s military history spanned for more than 80 years. In 1934, it became a federal penitentiary out of necessity due to prohibition and the depression era years before. It was during this time that Al Capone and The Birdman lived to serve their prison sentences. Legend has it that knew which cell Al Capone occupied. They say, he actually spent most of this incarceration here in isolation.
There is only one way to get to Alcatraz is by ferry from the piers in San Francisco near Pier 39. The entire island is now managed by the National Parks Service, the same government agency that manages Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park. It also has a bookstore and gift shop. No food is allowed in the island except water. When you get to the rock, you have the option to join a guided tour, rent audio tours or freely roam everywhere.
There are a slew of films that featured this most famous of penitentiaries. One famous film called “The Rock” starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage was released in 1996 is the most memorable of all. The films tells the story of an ex-convict who was able to escape the island (while incarcerated) now being recruited by the FBI to bring down a group of commandos who took the island hostage. It is known that this film was actually shot on the island. Other films that featured Alcatraz were “The Birdman of Alcatraz” released in 1962 starring Burt Lancaster, “Escape from Alcatraz”, a Clint Eastwood classic released in 1979, “Murder in the First” starring Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon released in 1995, “Point Break” starring Lee Marvin was released in 1964 and the first film ever shot on the island, among others.
It is also rumored that there are paranormal activity on the island. Most of these unsettled spirits, they say where those who died while incarcerated at Alcatraz. Several paranormal mediums and their television shows had ventured here at Alcatraz to study their activities.
If you go to the top of the Rock, you will see views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and the city of San Francisco on a clear day. But visitors to Alcatraz seems to be fascinated with cell block C and D and how grim the lives of inmates here must have been. Not every city can offer such attractions but somehow the lure of Alcatraz seems to be quite irresistible to many. I guess, that’s the reason why people travel. We all have an incurable appetite for curiosity.