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Alcatraz Island Things to Do: 68 reviews and 77 photos

  Vintage Postcard of Alcatraz and San Francisco
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Alcatraz was originally known as "La Isla de los Alcatraces" or "Island of the Pelicans" when it was given the name by a Spanish explorer, Juan Manuel de Ayala, who charted the San Francisco Bay in 1775. It was uninhabitated except for birds. In the mid 1800's, the "Island of Pelicans" was recognized as having strategic military value and subsequently a fortress as well as lighthouse (the Pacific coast's first) were built there by 1853. The fortress played a role in protecting California during the Gold Rush Era when shiploads of "goldrushers" from around the world came to seek their fortune. It was feared that other countries would attempt to seize the land and resources if not protected. "The Rock" became the symbol of the country's west coast military might.

A short time later, the Army began to use Alcatraz as a military prison because it seemed the perfect location as it was surrounded by freezing water, swift currents and general isolation. It began receiving Civil War prisoners in 1861 (the year the Civil War began) and Spanish-America war prisoners in 1898.

When the Great Depression ushered in a surge in crime, Alcatraz was transformed into a federal prison and was known to some as "Uncle Sam's Devil's Island.". It became famous for housing some of the country's most infamous criminals such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelley, and the Birdman of Alcatraz. The prison, as formidable as it was, became too costly to operate and was closed down. In 1969 a group of Native American Indians claimed it as Indian property and occupied the island until 1971.

"The Rock" is known for its famous or infamous prisoners, for harsh conditions, and some very notable escape attempts and it is still fascinating people years after its last inmate left and its doors closed in March, 1963. Each year over 1,000,000 visitors "willingly" enter Alcatraz!!

Directions: Alcatraz National Park; Golden Gate Recreation Area ~ San Francisco Bay
Website: http://www.nps.gov/alca/contacts.htm

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Oct 8, 2009
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