Converted from a military installation to a federal prison in 1934, Alcatraz is one of America’s foremost notorious prisons. Despite the fact it was only used as a prison for 29 years, it’s probably the most famous.
There are two main reasons for its being so well known; firstly the notability of prisoner which were housed there, and secondly, its image recorded by Hollywood’s moviemakers.
By current standards, the prison wasn’t large, housing only 250 inmates, but because of its island location, there were never any escapes recorded from it – thus adding fuel for entertainment industry to create movies such as “Escape from Alcatraz” where real life escape attempts were transposed into movies for the big screen. TV’s “Mythbusters” have since proved that escape was in fact a possibility, despite Alcatraz’s reputation to the contrary.
Today Alcatraz, known also as the Rock, is overseen by the National Parks Service who have representatives on the island. Visitors will be able to ask NPS staff any questions they have, but there are no formal tours around the prison. There are self-guided tours – including the cell house audio tour – however, which together with videos and exhibits make for an interesting trip around this famous building.
The evening ferry ride out to Alcatraz offers a greater insight into the island than the daytime ones as it circles the island, and has a narration about the island’s history – this should be balanced against the fact that there are some areas of the island that not open at night because of safety issues. There’s no fee for actually visiting Alcatraz, but the ferry companies that transport visitors across the Bay do charge for their services.
Whether you are interested in the Alcatraz myth, the celebrity inmates such as Al Capone, and Alvin Karpis, movie locations, or the historical past of San Francisco, you’ll find Alcatraz an interesting way to spend a few hours.