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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island was an uninhabited seabird haven in San Francisco Bay when it was first explored by the Spanish in 1775. It was named "Isla de los Alcatraces" or "Island of the Pelicans."

The earliest recorded owner of the island of Alcatraz was Julian Workman, to whom it was given by Mexican governor Pio Pico in June 1846, with the understanding that Workman would build a lighthouse on it.

Later in 1846, acting in his capacity as Military Governor of California, John C. Fremont bought Alcatraz Island (see below) for $5,000 in the name of the United States government from Francis Temple.

In 1850, President Millard Fillmore ordered that Alcatraz Island be set aside specifically as a United States military reservation for military purposes.

In 1854 Alcatraz Island housed the first lighthouse on the coast of California.

Beginning late 1858, a U.S. Army detachment was garrisoned there numbering about 200 soldiers and 11 cannons.

From 1868 Alcatraz was used to house military criminals along with rebellious Indian scouts, American soldiers fighting in the Philippines who had deserted to the Filipino cause, and Chinese civilians who resisted the U.S. Army during the Boxer Rebellion.

In 1934, Alcatraz was fortified into a high-security federal penitentiary designed to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the U.S. penal system, especially those with a penchant for escape attempts. The first batch of 137 prisoners arrived at Alcatraz at 9:40 am in the morning of August 11, 1934.

The average inmate at Alcatraz read 75-100 books per year.

Alcatraz had some of the best food in the federal prison system including chili dogs, butter-drenched potatoes, pork chops, biscuits and gravy & banana pudding. This was because the warden believed "most trouble in prison is caused by bad food." The prison staff ate the same food as the prisoners.

Prisoners on Alcatraz always had hot showers so they didn’t get acclimatized to cold water and try to escape by swimming.

Three men escaped from Alcatraz by digging holes in their cells using spoons, accessing an unguarded utility corridor. They climbed onto the roof, down a 50' drainpipe and over two 12' security fences before inflating a makeshift raft and swimming across the Bay. Their bodies have never been found.

A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as "missing and presumed drowned."

The then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered the penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963. The same year, the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois opened as the replacement facility for Alcatraz.

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