Alcatraz Island

12 Sep

Alcatraz…well we’ve had a love affair with this island all year long.

We have read sooo much about it that it felt like we were already well acquainted with the island before we even got there.

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Alcatraz Island was the only place I requested that we visit.  For me, whatever else we saw in California was just a bonus, if Alcatraz had been ticked off my bucket list.

We even had tickets booked before we left Australia to make sure we didn’t miss our opportunity and I’m pretty sure I reminded my brother weekly about booking those tickets.

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You have to be careful about who you book your tickets with though.  Many places claim to visit Alcatraz but only one cruise line has permission to dock with passengers to visit the National Park.

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Pulling in to dock with Alcatraz was a little surreal.  Finally…we were there.

Actually the island isn’t all that far from the city, considering they left their worst of the worst there.  It was only a short ten minute cruise across the bay.  Thankfully those bay water were cold and treacherous, enough to keep the bad guys at bay.

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All day long, boats dock and deliver visitors to Alcatraz, far more visitors than the island would have ever seen in her prison years.

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When you step off the boat, all at once, there is just so much to do and you don’t want to miss any of it.

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We started with a guided talk about the military part of Alcatraz’ history.

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Did you know that the island was originally a military fort and prison?

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This woman’s talk (yes the guide is a woman) was brilliant.  I’m still astounded with how few people took the tour.  So many people got off those boats and she was animated and inviting and people just walked past her.  And the small group that started with her drifted off leaving only our family and one other.  I don’t understand people.

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The woman – who told us all about how woman dressed and acted as men to join the military – also shared the history of Alcatraz when the island was a military fort.  We heard about life for the soldiers each day and how they never fought a battle there.

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One of the highlights of her tour was showing us how the cannons were loaded and fired.  No she didn’t actually fire it but, while she had our attention on the cannon, she slammed the lid of the big wooden box shut and, in that small enclosed room, we all jumped like the cannon had fired.  🙂

I really appreciated this woman’s tour and I encourage people to take the tours on offer.  They are not boring in the least and in fact they bring to life things like a cannon that ordinarily you would have walked passed.

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Still not far from the dock after an hour, we stopped to watch the island’s introductory video.

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From the theatre we stumbled onto the artefact rooms.  I wonder how many people missed these by skipping the video.

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Imagine having this gun pointed at you.  I’d put my hands up in a hurry.  And I don’t think I’d like to be hit by that baton either!!  I’d be good under threat of these items.

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Another lesser known period in Alcatrazes history is that, after the federal prison was closed, a group of Native Americans illegally occupied the island and lived there for nineteen months until they were forcibly removed.  All around the island you can see clues that point to this period.

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Sadly a lot of damage was done to this historic site during these years of occupation.

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From the dock, there’s a bit of a hike up the hill

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but there’s so much to explore and the views are spectacular, that you hardly notice the incline.

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Everyone heads for the main prison on the very top of the island.

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We made multiple stops on the way though to check out the many buildings along the way.  These were some of the family apartments.  Yes, the guards’ families, children included, lived on the island too.

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One resident, on a documentary we watched, prior to visiting, said that the families weren’t concerned at all about the prisoners locked up on the island with them.  She related that at least they knew where the bad guys were on the island, unlike living in San Francisco at the time.  Fair point.

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Once in the main prison, the staff set you up with their audio tour system.

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It’s actually really quiet inside as everyone is walking around with their headphones on listening to the narration.

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How would you feel living in here for life?

Not much space to breathe, but an awful lot of time to think.  Too much perhaps.

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Your only option, I suppose, was to make yourself comfortable and do the best you could with the lot you had been dealt.

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If you didn’t toe the line, you’d be sent to D block, otherwise known as the “Treatment Block”, and could find yourself in “The Hole” for a bit more time by yourself

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in total darkness.

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My guys weren’t so sure this treatment would have transformed the inmates into reputable citizens.  I tend to agree with them.

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Alcatraz’ library was the saddest excuse for a library I have ever seen…at least in its current state.  In its glory days it held about 15 000 books.  Not too shabby.  And the prisoners read more books a year  (approx 100) than many current adults read during their adult years.  I suppose they didn’t have much else to do.

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On the weekends they could spend some of their time in the recreation yard.

However, when we went out there, it was absolutely freezing and the wind really pushed you around…literally.

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Sadly, they couldn’t kill too many hours visiting with folk.  They were only permitted one visitor a month.

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Passing through the administration area

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we exited the prison building

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to check out the breathtaking views from the island.

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How hard would it be to concentrate on your work with this view from your office window!

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Oh and we found another indicator that the Native Americans occupied the island.

Can you see it?

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Look closely.

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Gosh, there’s so much I could share with you all

…like one of the dummy heads that were used to trick the guards during an escape in 1962.  Nope, they never found those three guys.

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…or the grenade damage on the prison floor that got there during the Battle of Alcatraz (Yep, the inmates took over the prison at one point)

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…or the pesky criminals we found there

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But we would be here for ages.

Oh I forgot to tell you.  On the day we visited the island, Al Capone’s great niece was there signing copies of her book, “Uncle Al Capone” so of course I had to buy one and have her sign my copy too.  It was a great read.

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We thoroughly loved our time on Alcatraz and would dearly have loved to stay longer (unlike the poor criminals who visited before us), to explore the ruins around the island,

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But the city of San Francisco was waiting for us.

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1 Comment

Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Family Events, Field Trips, Geography, US Holidays


One response to “Alcatraz Island

  1. Megan

    September 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I absolutely love reading about your American holiday!


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