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Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco's Bay closes down and transfers its last prisoners. At its peak period of use in 1950s, “The Rock," or "America’s Devil Island," housed over 200 inmates at the maximum-security facility. Alcatraz remains an icon of American prisons for its harsh conditions and record for being inescapable.
The twelve-acre rocky island, one and a half miles from San Francisco, featured the most advanced security of the time. Some of the first metal detectors were used at Alcatraz. Strict rules were enforced against the unfortunate inmates who had to do time at Alcatraz. Nearly complete silence was mandated at all times.
Alcatraz was first explored by Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, who called it Isla de los Alcatraces (Pelicans) because of all the birds that lived there. It was sold in 1849 to the U.S. government. The first lighthouse in California was on Alcatraz. It became a Civil War fort and then a military prison in 1907.
The end of its prison days did not end the Alcatraz saga. In March 1964, a group of Sioux claimed that the island belonged to them due to a 100-year-old treaty. Their claims were ignored until November 1969 when a group of eighty-nine Native Americans representing the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied the island. They stayed there until 1971 when AIM was finally forced off the island by federal authorities.
The following year, Alcatraz was added to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is now open for tourism.
READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Alcatraz
The History of Alcatraz
The Island of Alcatraz was inhabited by the indigenous people who arrived there 10,000-20,000 years ago. The first known inhabitants of the island were the people of the Miwok and Ohlone tribes who lived around the coastal areas between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay. How these people used the island is difficult to document as most of the oral histories of these tribes were lost. It is believed that the indigenous people used the area to collect food, namely bird eggs, and marine life. They also used the island as a place of banishment or isolation for members of the tribes who did not adhere to the tribal laws and ways of life. Years later when the Spanish were building missions along the western coast, many tribe members fled to the island and hid there to avoid the forced Christianity being imposed on them.
This small uninhabited island surrounded by cold swift currents and with sparse vegetation was named ‘La Isla de los Alcatraces‘ which translates to ‘Island of the Pelicans’, by Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775 as he chartered the San Francisco Bay area. In the late 1800’s the military identified the strategic position of the island as a defensive position of the Bay area, and an order was passed reserving the island for military use. The military began constructing a fortress at the top of the sandstone rock and by 1854, Alcatraz was home to the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast.
Alcatraz Military Fortress
The US Army began holding military prisoners at Alcatraz by the late 1850’s. Being an island surrounded by cold strong currents of the San Francisco Bay waters and away from the mainland, Alcatraz was a perfect place to hold prisoners as it was assumed that no one attempting an escape would swim and survive the cold waters of the Bay. As a military prison, Alcatraz inmates included Confederate sympathizers, citizens accused of treason and rebellious American Indians who disputed land agreements with the federal government. During the Spanish-American War (1898) and the early 20 th century the inmate population at the island grew, and the military used the growing inmate labour population to construct the cell houses and other prison amenities and by 1912, Alcatraz was the worlds’ largest reinforced concrete building.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
After 80 years of occupation, the US Military relinquished Alcatraz to the US Justice Department, which wanted a Federal Prison to incarcerate criminal population too dangerous or difficult to house at other US Penitentiaries. In July 1934, by making the existing complex at Alcatraz more secure, it became a maximum security, minimum-privilege facility with a guard-to-prisoner ratio of 1:1. The inmates of Alcatraz who came to be known as ‘the prison system’s prison’ had four basic rights – food, shelter, clothing and medical assistance. Anything more than that was an earned privilege through good reformed behaviour and these earned privileges which included corresponding or meeting with family members, access to the prison library, and recreational activities such as music, painting and working.
Alcatraz housed close to 260-275 inmates at a time although it had a capacity of 336 inmates. Some of the more well-known and rather infamous inmates at Alcatraz were Al Capone (Scarface), George Kelly (Machine Gun), Alvin Karpowicz (Crazy Kelly), Robert Stroud (Birdman), Roy Gardner, Henri Young, James Bulger and Mickey Cohen. During the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a Federal Penitentiary 14 attempts were made by 36 inmates in separate escape incidents. Of these 36 inmates, 23 were caught, 6 were shot and killed during their attempts, 2 drowned, and 5 inmates are to this date missing and presumed dead.
The Famous Escape from Alcatraz in 1962
While every escape attempt from The Rock has held the interest of many, perhaps the most intriguing to this date is the escape in 1962, when Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, Clarence and John disappeared from Alcatraz, never to be found either dead or alive again. ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ attempted to document this escape and further added mystery, intrigue and public interest to this escape and the inmates who disappeared. While the authorities maintain that these three inmates drowned, a lot of mystery conspiracy theories and speculation still circulate that they made it out alive. The FBI closed their investigation on this case in 1979, sighting that there was no credible evidence suggesting that the Anglin brothers and Morris were still alive in the US or overseas. The US Marshals Services, however, are investigating leads to this day. The Marshals Services claim that the investigation will remain ongoing until they find conclusive proof that the men are deceased or until they turn 99 years of age.
Amid the claims of the authorities that presume the men drowned and the ongoing Marshals Service investigation, the family descendants of Clarence and John Anglin, firmly believe that the brothers and Morris made it and are alive. The family has furnished photographs and Christmas cards that they claim the Anglin brothers sent them sporadically. The nephews and sister of Clarence and John allegedly believe that the brothers were in touch with them right until the mid 70’s. Lately, in 2013, the San Francisco Police Department received a handwritten letter, supposedly from John Anglin proposing a trade – that he would return and do time for 1 year and in return be allowed cancer treatment. The letter further alleged that Morris had died in 2008, and Clarence in 2011. This letter fuelled renewed interest in the case but all further investigations ended inconclusively, and the case is still open.
While the fate of the Anglin brothers and Morris, will remain the stuff of legends, and continue to be one crazy conspiracy theory that actually turned out to be true, new scientific evidence now suggests that the trio might have made it out alive, and lived their lives incognito. Computer models that consider the Bay tides, winds and other factors reveal that the inmates stood a small chance of survival if they started paddling their raft between 11 pm and midnight heading north towards Angel Island. During the investigation, remains of the paddle boat and other belongings of the trio were found on Angel Island, and so rumour has it that these inmates did escape the island that night, while authorities continue to maintain no one ever made it out of Alcatraz alive.
After being a Federal Penitentiary for 29 years and having housed 1576 inmates over the years Alcatraz closed its doors in 1964, due to high operational costs and deteriorating infrastructure.
A group of Native Indians led by Mohawk activist Richard Oakes claimed the island on behalf of the “Indians of All Tribes” in 1969 and hoped to establish a university and museum on the island. However in 1971, President Nixon removed the Native American occupiers, and in 1972, the island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was open to the public in 1973. Today, Alcatraz attracts more than 1 million tourists a year.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
The name Alcatraz is derived from the Spanish "Alcatraces." In 1775, the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to sail into what is now known as San Francisco Bay - his expedition mapped the bay and named one of the three islands Alcatraces. Over time, the name was Anglicized to Alcatraz. While the exact meaning is still debated, Alcatraz is usually defined as meaning "pelican" or "strange bird."
In 1850, a presidential order set aside the island for possible use as a United States military reservation. The California Gold Rush, the resulting boom in the growth of San Francisco, and the need to protect San Francisco Bay led the U.S. Army to build a Citadel, or fortress, at the top of the island in the early 1850s. The Army also made plans to install more than 100 cannons on the island, making Alcatraz the most heavily fortified military site on the West Coast. Together with Fort Point and Lime Point, Alcatraz formed a "triangle of defense" designed to protect the entrance to the bay. The island was also the site of the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States.
By the late 1850s, the first military prisoners were being housed on the island. While the defensive necessity of Alcatraz diminished over time (the island never fired its guns in battle), its role as a prison would continue for more than 100 years. In 1909, the Army tore down the Citadel, leaving its basement level to serve as the foundation for a new military prison. From 1909 through 1911, the military prisoners on Alcatraz built the new prison, which was designated the Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks for the U.S. Army. It was this prison building that later became famous as "The Rock."
The U.S. Army used the island for more than 80 years--from 1850 until 1933, when the island was transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice for use by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Federal Government had decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary to deal with the most incorrigible inmates in Federal prisons, and to show the law-abiding public that the Federal Government was serious about stopping the rampant crime of the 1920s and 1930s.
Life at the prison
While several well-known criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis (the first "Public Enemy #1"), and Arthur "Doc" Barker did time on Alcatraz, most of the prisoners incarcerated there were not well-known gangsters, but prisoners who refused to conform to the rules and regulations at other Federal institutions, who were considered violent and dangerous, or who were considered escape risks.
The average population was only about 260-275 (the prison never once reached its capacity of 336 - at any given time, Alcatraz held less than 1 percent of the total Federal prison population). Many prisoners actually considered the living conditions (for instance, always one man to a cell) at Alcatraz to be better than other Federal prisons, and several inmates actually requested a transfer to Alcatraz. But while USP Alcatraz was not the "America's Devil's Island" that books and movies often portrayed, it was designed to be a prison system's prison.
If a man did not behave at another institution, he could be sent to Alcatraz, where the highly structured, monotonous daily routine was designed to teach an inmate to follow rules and regulations. At Alcatraz, a prisoner had four rights: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Everything else was a privilege that had to be earned. Some privileges a prisoner could earn included: working, corresponding with and having visits from family members, access to the prison library, and recreational activities such as painting and music. Once prison officials felt a man no longer posed a threat and could follow the rules (usually after an average of five years on Alcatraz), he could then be transferred back to another Federal prison to finish his sentence and be released.
The island's most famous prisoner was probably Robert Stroud, the so-called "Birdman of Alcatraz" who spent 54 years of his life behind bars. Stroud never had any birds at Alcatraz, nor was he the grandfatherly person portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the well-known movie. In 1909, Stroud was convicted of manslaughter while serving his prison sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary (USP), McNeil Island, Washington, he viciously attacked another inmate. This resulted in his transfer to USP Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1916, he murdered a Leavenworth guard, was convicted of first-degree murder, and received a death sentence. His mother pleaded for his life, and in 1920, President Woodrow Wilson commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
It was Stroud's violent behavior that earned him time in segregation. During his 30 years at Leavenworth, he developed his interest in birds and eventually wrote two books about canaries and their diseases. Initially, prison officials allowed Stroud's bird studies because it was seen as a constructive use of his time. However, contraband items were often found hidden in the bird cages, and prison officials discovered that equipment Stroud had requested for his "scientific" studies had actually been used to construct a still for "home-brew." Stroud was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942, where he spent the next 17 years (6 years in segregation in "D Block" and 11 years in the prison hospital). In 1959, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where he died on November 21, 1963.
The 14 Escape Attempts From Alcatraz
1936 - Headstrong
April 27, 1936 -- While working his job burning trash at the incinerator, Joe Bowers began climbing up and over the chain link fence at the island's edge. After refusing orders to climb back down, Bowers was shot by a correctional officer stationed in the West road guard tower, then fell about 50-100 feet to the shore below. He died from his injuries.
1937 - Storm is Brewing
December 16, 1937 -- Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe worked in the mat shop in the model industries building. Over a period of time, while working in the mat shop in the model industries building, they filed their way through the flat iron bars on a window. After climbing through the window, they made their way down to the water's edge and disappeared into San Francisco Bay. This attempt occurred during a bad storm and the Bay's currents were especially fast and strong - most people believe Roe and Cole were swept out to sea. Officially, they are listed missing and presumed dead.
1938 - Workshop attack
May 23, 1938 -- While at work in the woodworking shop in the model industries building, James Limerick, Jimmy Lucas, and Rufus Franklin attacked unarmed correctional officer Royal Cline with a hammer (Cline died from his injuries). The three then climbed to the roof in an attempt to disarm the correctional officer in the roof tower. The officer, Harold Stites, shot Limerick and Franklin. Limerick died from his injuries. Lucas and Franklin received life sentences for Cline's murder.
1939 - The failed five
January 13, 1939 -- Arthur "Doc" Barker, Dale Stamphill, William Martin, Henry Young, and Rufus McCain escaped from the isolation unit in the cellhouse by sawing through the flat iron cell bars and bending tool-proof bars on a window. They then made their way down to the water's edge. Correctional officers found the men at the shoreline on the west side of the island. Martin, Young, and McCain surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill were shot when they refused to surrender. Barker died from his injuries.
1941 - Using the force
May 21, 1941 -- Joe Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Arnold Kyle, and Lloyd Barkdoll took several correctional officers hostage while working in the industries area. The officers, including Paul Madigan (who later became Alcatraz's third warden), were able to convince the four that they could not escape and they surrendered.
1941 - Cold as ice
September 15, 1941 -- While on garbage detail, John Bayless attempted to escape. He gave up shortly after entering the cold water of San Francisco Bay. Later, while appearing in Federal court in San Francisco, Bayless tried, again unsuccessfully, to escape from the courtroom.
1943 - Spidermen
April 14, 1943 -- James Boarman, Harold Brest, Floyd Hamilton, and Fred Hunter took two officers hostage while at work in the industries area. The four climbed out a window and made their way down to the water's edge. One of the hostages was able to alert other officers to the escape and shots were fired at Boarman, Brest, and Hamilton, who were swimming away from the island. Hunter and Brest were both apprehended. Boarman was hit by gunfire and sank below the water before officers were able to reach him his body was never recovered. Hamilton was initially presumed drowned. However, after hiding out for two days in a small shoreline cave, Hamilton made his way back up to the industries area, where he was discovered by correctional officers.
1943 - Missing Sock
August 7, 1943 -- Huron "Ted" Walters disappeared from the prison laundry building. He was caught at the shoreline, before he could even attempt to enter San Francisco Bay.
1945 - Uncle Sam
July 31, 1945 -- In one of the most ingenious attempts, John Giles was able to take advantage of his job working at the loading dock, where he unloaded army laundry sent to the island to be cleaned - over time, he stole an entire army uniform. Dressed in the uniform, Giles calmly walked aboard an army launch to what he thought was freedom. He was discovered missing almost immediately. Unfortunately for Giles, the launch was headed for Angel Island, not San Francisco as Giles hoped. As Giles set foot on Angel Island, he was met by correctional officers who returned him to Alcatraz.
1946 - Battle of Alcatraz
May 2-4, 1946 -- During this incident, known as the "Battle of Alcatraz" and the "Alcatraz Blastout," six prisoners were able to overpower cellhouse officers and gain access to weapons and cellhouse keys, in effect taking control of the cellhouse. Their plan began to fall apart when the inmates found they did not have the key to unlock the recreation yard door. Shortly thereafter, prison officials discovered the escape attempt. Instead of giving up, Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard, Sam Shockley, Miran Thompson, and Clarence Carnes decided to fight. Eventually Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes returned to their cells, but not before the officers taken hostage were shot at point-blank range by Cretzer (encouraged by Shockley and Thompson). One officer, William Miller, died from his injuries. A second officer, Harold Stites (who stopped the third escape attempt), was shot and killed attempting to regain control of the cellhouse. About 18 officers were injured during the escape attempt. The U.S. Marines were eventually called out to assist, and on May 4, the escape attempt ended with the discovery of the bodies of Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard. Shockley, Thompson, and Carnes stood trial for the death of the officers Shockley and Thompson received the death penalty and were executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in December 1948. Carnes, age 19, received a second life sentence.
1956 - Docked
July 23, 1956 -- Floyd Wilson disappeared from his job at the dock. After hiding for several hours among large rocks along the shoreline, he was discovered and surrendered.
1958 - Backstroke
September 29, 1958 -- While working on the garbage detail, Aaron Burgett and Clyde Johnson overpowered a correctional officer and attempted to swim from the island. Johnson was caught in the water, but Burgett disappeared. An intensive search turned up nothing. Burgett's body was found floating in the Bay two weeks later.
1962 - Hollywood
June 11, 1962 -- Made famous by Clint Eastwood in the movie Escape from Alcatraz, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin vanished from their cells and were never seen again. A fourth man, Allen West, believed by some people to have been the mastermind, was also involved however, he was still in his cell the next morning when the escape was discovered. An investigation revealed an intricate escape plot that involved homemade drills to enlarge vent holes, false wall segments, and realistic dummy heads (complete with human hair) placed in the beds so the inmates would not be missed during nighttime counts. The three men exited through vent holes located in the rear wall of their cell - they had enlarged the vent holes and made false vent/wall segments to conceal their work. Behind the rear wall of the cells is a utility corridor that had locked steel doors at either end. The three men climbed the utility pipes to the top of the cellblock, and gained access to the roof through an air vent (the men had previously bent the iron bars that blocked the air vent). They then climbed down a drainpipe on the northern end of the cellhouse and made their way to the water. It is believed they left from the northeast side of the island near the powerhouse/quartermaster building. They used prison-issued raincoats to make crude life vests and a pontoon-type raft to assist in their swim. A cellhouse search turned up the drills, heads, wall segments, and other tools, while the water search found two life vests (one in the bay, the other outside the Golden Gate), oars, and letters and photographs belonging to the Anglins that had been carefully wrapped to be watertight. But no sign of the men was found. Several weeks later, a man's body dressed in blue clothing similar to the prison uniform was found a short distance up the coast from San Francisco, but the body was too badly deteriorated to be identified. Morris and the Anglins are officially listed as missing and presumed drowned.
1962 - A dish best served cold
December 16, 1962 -- John Paul Scott and Darl Parker bent the bars of a kitchen window in the cellhouse basement, climbed out, and made their way down to the water. Parker was discovered on a small outcropping of rock a short distance from the island. Scott attempted to swim towards San Francisco, but the currents began pulling him out to sea. He was found by several teenagers on the rocks near Fort Point (beneath the Golden Gate Bridge) and was taken to the military hospital at the Presidio Army base suffering from shock and hypothermia, before being returned to Alcatraz.
Over the 29 years (1934-1963) that the Federal prison operated, 36 men (including two who tried to escape twice) were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. Of these, 23 were caught, 6 were shot and killed during their escape, and 2 drowned. Two of the men who were caught were later executed in the gas chamber at the California State Prison at San Quentin for their role in the death of a correctional officer during the famous May 2-4, 1946, "Battle of Alcatraz" escape attempt.
Whether or not anyone succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz depends on the definition of "successful escape." Is it getting out of the cellhouse, reaching the water, making it to land, or reaching land and not getting caught? Officially, no one ever succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz, although to this day there are five prisoners listed as "missing and presumed drowned."
One of the many myths about Alcatraz is that it was impossible to survive a swim from the island to the mainland because of sharks. In fact, there are no "man-eating" sharks in San Francisco Bay, only small bottom-feeding sharks. The main obstacles were the cold temperature (averaging 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit), the strong currents, and the distance to shore (at least 1-1/4 miles). Prior to the Federal institution opening in 1934, a teenage girl swam to the island to prove it was possible. Fitness guru Jack LaLanne once swam to the island pulling a rowboat, and several years ago, two 10-year-old children also made the swim.
If a person is well-trained and -conditioned, it is possible to survive the cold waters and fast currents. However, for prisoners - who had no control over their diet, no weightlifting or physical training (other than situps and pushups), and no knowledge of high and low tides - the odds for success were slim.
On March 21, 1963, USP Alcatraz closed after 29 years of operation. It did not close because of the disappearance of Morris and the Anglins (the decision to close the prison was made long before the three disappeared), but because the institution was too expensive to continue operating. An estimated $3-5 million was needed just for restoration and maintenance work to keep the prison open. That figure did not include daily operating costs - Alcatraz was nearly three times more expensive to operate than any other Federal prison (in 1959 the daily per capita cost at Alcatraz was $10.10 compared with $3.00 at USP Atlanta). The major expense was caused by the physical isolation of the island - the exact reason islands have been used as prisons throughout history. This isolation meant that everything (food, supplies, water, fuel. ) had to be brought to Alcatraz by boat. For example, the island had no source of fresh water, so nearly one million gallons of water had to be barged to the island each week. The Federal Government found that it was more cost-effective to build a new institution than to keep Alcatraz open.
After the prison closed, Alcatraz was basically abandoned. Many ideas were proposed for the island, including a monument to the United Nations, a West Coast version of the Statue of Liberty, and a shopping center/hotel complex. In 1969, the island again made news when a group of Native American Indians claimed Alcatraz as Indian land with the hope of creating a Native American cultural center and education complex on the island. The "Indians of All Tribes" used their act of civil disobedience to illustrate the troubles faced by Native Americans. Initially, public support for the Native Americans' cause was strong, and thousands of people (general public, schoolchildren, celebrities, hippies, Vietnam war protesters, Hells Angels. ) came to the island over the next 18 months. Unfortunately, the small Native American leadership group could not control the situation and much damage occurred (graffiti, vandalism, and a fire that destroyed the lighthouse keeper's home, the Warden's home, and the Officers' Club). In June 1971, Federal Marshals removed the remaining Native Americans from the island.
In 1972, Congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Alcatraz Island was included as part of the new National Park Service unit. The island opened to the public in the fall of 1973 and has become one of the most popular Park Service sites - more than one million visitors from around the world visit the island each year.
If you would like more information about Alcatraz, visit the National Park Service Web site.
The Blackout And Fire
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images Parts of Alcatraz burn during the occupation.
Tragedy struck when the main leader of the movement, Richard Oakes, and his wife lost their stepdaughter when she fell off a walkway on the island and died. Consumed with grief, they left the island soon after, and it all began to fall apart, with competing factions looking to fill the leadership vacuum.
In May 1970, Nixon and his administration had concluded that no agreement could be reached, so they cut the power and Alcatraz fell into darkness.
Just a few weeks later, a fire tore through several historic buildings to this day, it’s not clear if it was an accident or the work of some outside provocateurs.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images A man stands outside a tepee set up on Alcatraz during the occupation.
Despite the fire and the blackout, some remained for almost another year, but conditions went downhill rapidly.
In April 1971, demonstrator Adam Fortunate Eagle told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I don’t want to say Alcatraz is done with, but no organized Indian groups are active there. It has turned from an Indian movement to a personality thing.”
Armed federal marshals removed the remaining handful of people in June 1971.
6 Fun Facts: Alcatraz Island History
T he Island of Alcatraz is so shrouded in mystery, sometimes you can’t even see it! (Just kidding, that’s just Carl the Fog). This world-famous island that used to house a maximum security prison is nicknamed “The Rock,” alluding to its remote location and the way it protrudes from the waters in the San Francisco Bay. We collected some of our favorite facts (and debunked a few myths) about this historic island.
There have never been any confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz
This one shocked me! With the popularity of the 1979 movie, Escape from Alcatraz, about a group of three men who used spoons to escape “The Rock,” I’m positive I’m not the only who believed this myth. Actually, 36 people have tried (and failed) to escape. But, in true Alcatraz form, three of them have never been found, nor bodies recovered, so some believe that they made have been successful.
The island was home to prisoners as early as the 1850s
When San Francisco was put on the map during the Gold Rush of the 1840s, Alcatraz was used for military prisoners. It was also used as a military prison during the Civil War. It did close its doors as a prison in 1963.
It is technically possible to swim to shore
In 1962, one inmate managed to squeeze through a window and swim to shore. Unfortunately, he was so tired by the time he reached land, that the police found him lying unconscious at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the 1.5 mile swim is completed by many annually during the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.
At any given time, there were about 300 civilians living on Alcatraz that included both women and children
The families of the guard staff lived on the island, of course. They were primarily housed in Building #64, or in one of the three apartment buildings. Families had their own bowling alley, a small convenience store, and soda fountain shop for the kids. Families did most of their shopping in San Francisco since the prison boat made 12 runs to the pier each day.
Until the late 1930s, there was a rule of silence
During the early years of the prison, inmates were only allowed to talk during meals and recreation periods. This rule was outlawed in the late 30s, as it was considered unjustly harsh.
Alcatraz was home to several well-known criminals
Of the 1,576 prisoners incarcerated on “The Rock,” three famous prisoners stick out as previous residents. George “Machine-Gun” Kelly and Alvin Karpis (the first “Public Enemy #1”) both called Alcatraz home. The most famous prisoner, Mr. Al Capone, lived there for four and a half years.
Interested in learning more? I highly recommend visiting Alcatraz during your next stay at Loews Regency San Francisco. Too afraid to check out the fun? You can enjoy the island from afar. Did you know you can see Alcatraz Island from the hotel? It’s true!
We hope you learned something interesting about one of the most iconic lockups in the world. If you do visit Alcatraz, be sure to tag us at @LoewsRegencySF and by using the hashtag #LoewsRegencySF.
Ghosts of Alcatraz: Hauntings at the Prison Known as “The Rock”
From voices, to footsteps, to the appearance of apparitions, Alcatraz is considered a very haunted location…
Alcatraz was first discovered in 1775 by Spanish explorer Juan Miguel de Ayala. He named the island La Isla de los Alcatraces, meaning “island of pelicans.”
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History of Alcatraz
As a result of the influx of people to San Francisco at the time of the California Gold Rush, construction of a fortress began by U.S. Army engineers in 1853 at what later became known as Alcatraz.
Due to the higher rate of crime during the gangster era, Alcatraz began a makeover in 1934 to make it better suited for hardened criminals.
Some of the best-known inmates who spent time at Alcatraz include Al Capone, Robert Stroud, (otherwise known as “The Bird Man of Alcatraz,”) Machine Gun Kelly, and Doc Barker of the Ma Barker gang.
When operational costs became too high, Alcatraz closed its doors in 1963.
The Ghosts at Alcatraz
There have been numerous incidents of spirit happenings experienced by both guards and visitors to Alcatraz. Male voices and footsteps have been heard. People have seen apparitions, and some guests have experienced the smell of smoke. Both orbs and ghostly images have been captured on film.
There have been several deaths at Alcatraz. Eight people were killed by inmates during Alcatraz’s time as a prison, along with five inmates who committed suicide. Fifteen people died from natural causes.
Could any of these people be the ghosts of Alcatraz? Some people believe the spirits of two guards who were murdered in a shooting incident in 1946 still roam the grounds.
Cell blocks A, B, and C are said to have paranormal activity. The laundry room and the hospital have also had reported spirit activity. C-Block is reputedly haunted by the spirit of former inmate Abie Maldowitz (nicknamed Butcher) who was murdered in the laundry room.
On September 5, 1984, a ranger spent the night alone on the island and was awakened by a heavy door swinging in C-Block, but found no cause for it the door swinging continued on other nights.
D-Block is considered by paranormal investigators to have the most activity in the prison. Four of the 42 cells in this block are thought to be haunted, and unexplained voices have been reported in cells 11, 12, and 13.
Cell 14-D, the worst cell for punishment in “The Hole” and of Alcatraz, is considered to be the most haunted cell in the prison. Many people report that Cell 14-D is permanently icy cold, even during the summer, and is often 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit colder than anywhere else.
Even people who don’t believe in ghosts have had experiences they can’t explain. One day when Warden Johnson was taking people on a tour, both he and the tour group heard the sounds of sobbing coming from inside the prison walls.
When the sobbing stopped, a gust of cold air raced by them. Although Johnson does not believe in ghosts, he was unable to come up with an explanation for what had occurred.
Al Capone’s Ghost
Al Capone’s final time at Alcatraz was mainly spent in the hospital due to an advanced case of syphilis. Instead of going outside for recreational time, he preferred to spend time in one of the shower rooms practicing his banjo.
At times, the sound of banjo music can still be heard on Alcatraz. Some believe it is the ghost of Al Capone.
A park ranger also reportedly heard Capone twanging his banjo in the shower. Ranger Lori Brosnan has said that many visitors have reported feeling a cold chill when walking through the shower room, and one visitor reported feeling fingers on the back of his neck, but turned around and nobody was there.
Paranormal Investigations of Alcatraz
There have been several paranormal investigations that have taken place on Alcatraz. The Los Angeles Paranormal Association, (LAPA,) caught some spirit images on film.
Paranormal investigators Mike Sullivan and Karen Mossey captured several EVPs during their overnight investigation.
KGO Radio Morning News anchor Ted Wygant, a skeptic of the paranormal, visited Alcatraz in 1982 with psychic Jeanne Borgen and spent the night there.
The inmates who were killed during the Battle of Alcatraz in 1946, Bernard Coy (left), Marvin Hubbard (center), and Joe Cretzer (right)
Wygant said for most of the duration of the visit they found nothing, but around 3 am in the utility corridor, the place where three of the men of the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz were shot dead, he said that although it was pitch black, he suddenly got a “tremendous feeling of anger” and felt an evil presence lying on the floor at the place where the men had died.
He started cursing and said that he felt a strong compulsion to fire a gun at people. Borgen said that it left Wygant quite out of character, and said that when they turned on the light, “his face was changed, you could see the anger and hate in his eyes”.
Wygant has said though that it is quite difficult for him to believe there was something really there, but he is certain that he felt that something had happened
Alcatraz is, and will continue to be a favorite among ghost hunters because of all of the reported spirit activity.
54 Years Since Alcatraz Closed, a Former Guard Remembers Playing Checkers With the Birdman and More
At 90 years of age, George DeVincenzi is a neatly dressed, warm, approachable guy—the kind you wouldn't necessarily peg for a correctional officer at one of the country's most notorious prisons. Born and raised in SF, he grew up in North Beach as a young boy, he sold newspapers and shined shoes down at Fisherman's Wharf.
"I used to observe the people putting money in the telescopes to look out at Alcatraz," recalls DeVincenzi, who worked as a guard on the Rock from 1950 to 1958. If you've taken the prison's audio tour, you've likely heard his voice. Or perhaps you've glimpsed him signing copies of his book, Murders on Alcatraz.
Today, DeVincenzi is still watching tourists: He's spent the last 25 years giving tours and talks and fielding questions about his days on the Rock—Is it haunted? And, What was Al Capone like? For the record, DeVincenzi wasn't there during Capone's incarceration, and he does not believe in ghosts. But he has his own stories to tell.
A photo of DeVincenzi at Alcatraz. (The spelling of his name is incorrect on the placard.) (Bridget Veltri)
7x7: Who were some of the more famous criminals incarcerated during your time at Alcatraz?
GD: George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, and Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz. In my experience, you never had to worry about the famous ones, you had to worry about the ones you never heard of. Stroud was probably the most dangerous inmate during my time there, and I often found myself playing checkers with him.
Umm, how did that come about?
I'm not proud of that because I wasn't suppose to. There was an office in the nearby gun gallery in sight of [Birdman's] cell. If I knew and trusted the guard working, I would play checkers. We would play very early in the morning when it was quiet. It was a way of killing time, to eliminate the boredom that came from working that midnight to 8am shift.
Are you good at checkers?
No, I don't think I ever beat him.
Who were the prisoners you hadn't heard of?
One of them was Billy Cook, who killed an entire family and their dog and then dumped the bodies in a mine shaft. I wrote a chapter on him in my book.
Any lasting memories?
My first day on Alcatraz, they put me in the barbershop with nine inmates. Within 10 minutes, I witnessed a murder, on my first day, during my first assignment, my first hour there. Welcome to Alcatraz. I got a cut on my leg that was 10 inches long because I was trying to separate [the inmates] like a damn fool.
What was your relationship like with the inmates?
Some inmates you could talk to, they would have a civil conversation with you about the 49ers winning and whatnot. Others were antisocial and against anything resembling law enforcement. These inmates resented the uniform, and us, I understood that. But all we wanted to do was get in our eight hours and get out of there.
What was the most difficult part of your job?
Combating complete boredom. If you were working in the gun galleries and the towers, once you were locked in, you had to stay put for the next eight hours.
What was your preferred post on Alcatraz?
The yard wall or the hospital-treatment unit. From dental and doctor appointments to force-feeding inmates who refused to eat, there was always something going on at the hospital.
Why Was Alcatraz Closed?
Although it was almost forty years have passed when this prison was forced to close, this was still the subject of urban legends, giving it the reputation of being the well-known United States federal prison. Stories of brutality are still luring the place. Nevertheless, the real story needed to surface.
The Alcatraz Island or, most commonly known as the Alcatraz Prison was given the current name by a Spanish explorer during his exploration voyage of the San Francisco shore, California in year 1775. In his native language, the name meant, ‘The Island of Pelicans, because only the birds inhabit the said place. This island was originally planned to house a fortress with gigantic canons that could bring down warships of adversaries for miles. Upon finishing it in 1850, the army used these canons only once, and the shot was inaccurate and missed the target.
Early in the days of the prison, only uniformed personnel were held here until 1933 came when it was converted to a national prison by the virtue of the DOJ. A year later, the first batch of civilians were accommodated in the prison. The government then emphasized that due to a far distance between this island and the shores around San Francisco, the presence of ferocious sharks and the cold water temperature, escape was far too impossible.
In spite of these categories, several attempts were made by the prisoners. Of the 14 attempts, no one succeeded. It was proven by research, however, that swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco shore was probable, and that accounts of the presence of sharks were also challenged. There were notable convicts who planted the reputation of the prison. Some include Bumpy Johnson, Doc Barker and Machine Gun Kelly.
After 29 years of operations, in the 21st day of March 1963, Alcatraz Prison was forced to close because according to the decision of the national government that it was becoming too expensive for the government to pursue the operations. The danger to the environment that the prison imposes also became a concern.
Living Memories From The Last Days Of Alcatraz
Fifty years ago, the notorious Alcatraz prison shut its gate behind guard Jim Albright as he escorted the last inmate off the island on March 21, 1963.
"As we're going out, I know, when I come back from this trip, I don't have a job, I don't have a home anymore," Albright remembers. "I didn't want the island to close, I didn't want to leave. I liked it there."
Since that day, Albright estimates that he's visited the island a dozen times, along with many other tourists to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But even without prisoners, Alcatraz remains one of the most infamous prisons in America. It continues to capture the public's imagination, decades after it closed.
Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks. Courtesy Alcatraz The Rock hide caption
Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks.
Remembering "The Rock"
Former inmate Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks while on shore leave from the Navy — and using the aircraft carrier on which he was stationed as a getaway vehicle.
"Well, the reputation of Alcatraz went far and wide, even to us convicts," Schibline says. "I had a bit of a trepidation when I got off the bus, and seeing that thing sitting on the island, out in the bay, shrouded by fog, I thought, 'Oh boy, here I go again, into the world unknown!'"
Albright was also nervous on his first day on "The Rock."
"I remember I was only 24 when I started there, and I had no previous experience," he says. "So it was kinda fearful, and you'd be apprehensive and it was exciting and everything, especially when you walked through the door for the first time and they slammed the door behind you. Because you didn't know what to expect."
The Night Of The Escape
Albright and Schibline remember each other from those days, though guards and inmates did not socialize. They also recall the night when inmates Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin made history as the first successful escapees from "The Rock."
The daring trio placed homemade dummy heads in their beds to fool the guards, then climbed up onto the roof and into the San Francisco Bay on a raft made of raincoats. They were never heard from again.
"All the inmates felt like they made it and all the officers felt like they didn't make it," Albright recalls.
"Everybody was very happy that they made it out of the cell block and out of the prison," says Schibline, who did his own small part to help the Anglin brothers escape. "I was able to get access to the paper out of the garbage can and get the tide tables off to Clarence."
Whether or not that helped the escapees is uncertain, and most believe they drowned in the ocean. A year after the escape, Alcatraz prison was shut down.
Alcatraz: The Last Day
Life Magazine assigned photographer Leigh Wiener to cover closing day at Alcatraz on March 21, 1963. Most of what he shot went unpublished until his son Devik rediscovered the images 45 years later. In 2012, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy published Wiener's photos in a book, Alcatraz: The Last Day.
The breakfast menu on the prison's last day included dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs and stewed fruit.
The Occupation Of Alcatraz
In the early morning hours of November 20th, 1969, an estimated 89 Native Americans boarded boats near Sausalito, California and headed towards the Island of Alcatraz. When landing on “The Rock” they immediately declared the island “by right of discovery” with plans on turning it into a Native American cultural center and school. This would begin a 19 month occupation that would catch the attention of the entire nation.
The Alcatraz prison closed its doors on March 21, 1963, due to large operating costs. Over the next few years, it eventually became classified as surplus federal property, which technically would mean that Native Americans were allowed by law to appropriate it according to a treaty signed in 1868. After declaring they had now owned the land, they wanted the American government to provide funding to create an Native American cultural center. The government refused, and thus began the standoff between the two parties.
After a fire in October of 1969 burned down San Francisco’s American Indian Center, the IOAT soon set their sights on the island of Alcatraz since it was unused at the time. A man named Richard Oakes, who was a student at the Mohawk College, organized a smaller protest on November 9th, 1969, that lasted only a day before authorities ushered them off the island. Oakes told the San Francisco Chronicle, “If a one day occupation by white men on Indian land years ago established squatter’s rights, then the one day occupation of Alcatraz should establish Indian rights to the island.”
When the much larger protest started just a few weeks later, the group didn’t waste any time. The initial group was said to be around 89 people. They went right into the guard’s quarters and made themselves at home. A message soon appeared on the water tower that read: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” Other slogans like “Custer had it coming” and “Red Power” could also be seen.
Although they had already claimed they now owned the island “by right of discovery,” they apparently made a sarcastic offer to the government to purchase the island. What they offered as payment was “$24 in glass beads and red cloth,” which is supposedly is what the Indians received for the sale of Manhattan.
The group also claimed that it didn’t matter to them that the Alcatraz island lacked fresh water and was extremely underdeveloped. The reason they gave was they were already used to living in those conditions at Indian reservations provided by the government.
President Nixon felt it would end badly if he tried to forcibly remove the protesters so he decided to leave them be, as long as they remained peaceful. I’m sure he thought they would eventually give up once their resources and supplies were gone. I’m sure he didn’t expect the protesters to receive so much help from the public.
It was reported that at times there were as many as 600 people on the island as people would come and go almost at will. People donated food, water, clothes and even money, apparently thousands of dollars just poured in to help aid the protesters. There was even said to be visits from Hollywood Royalty such as Merv Griffin and Jane Fonda that came out to show their support. The band Creedence Clearwater Revival apparently donated a boat which was later christened as “Clearwater”, very fitting I know.
It wasn’t all happy times though, by early 1970 things had taken a turn for the worse living on the island. Most of the protesters consisted of college students, which meant that at some point they needed to return to class. In order to maintain a certain amount of people on the island they soon brought on vagrants to replace the students. But they didn’t have any real interest in the cause, they more cared about living rent free. According to reports the biggest problem was the hippies and freelance photographers. They were said to be bringing drugs and alcohol to the island, which was banned by the originating group.
In January of 1970 a tragic accident happened where the young stepdaughter of Richard Oakes, who was still one of the main leaders at that time. She had apparently fallen in one of the many stairwells which resulted in her passing away. This was devastating to Oakes and his wife, so they actually left the island leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
A few short months later it was determined by President Nixon and his advisers that a diplomatic solution was going to be virtually impossible. So in an effort to peacefully force the group to vacate the island, the government shut off all remaining power going there. Although it would still take some time, this was ultimately the beginning of the end.
The last few months of the occupation had turned from an Indian protest fighting for the right of their people to an unorganized bunch of squatters to stubborn to admit defeat. By the time June of 1971 came around the government had enough. They sent in armed Federal Marshals to remove anyone left on the island. But by that time there were only a small handful of people still remaining, including four children. I can’t imagine that would be a place that you would want to have children around. It would be interesting to talk to one of those kids today about what they remember from that crazy time period.
For Desperate or Irredeemable Types United States Federal Penitentiary Alcatraz
Several additional contracts were let in 1934. They included an unnamed firm that got a contract for the installation of a firebrick furnace lining in the power plant the Anchor Post Fence Company of California won the contract for new fencing and the Enterprise Electric Works got the job of installing an emergency lighting system in the morgue. The new fencing was to be the cyclone type with barbed wire protectors on the top, beginning at the incinerator, passing around back of the shops building, the fog siren station, the carpenter shop, on past the laundry, then crossing the path to join the back of the powerhouse. Where it passed the shops building, which was built on the high scarp wall of the original fortifications a steel walk was provided to get around the building, so that dogs patrolling the area might pass between the fence and the building. This walk is still in place today.
Three representatives from the Marine Hospital in San Francisco inspected the hospital facilities in the prison. They were not impressed with what they saw, saying that it was really just a first aid station without X-ray equipment. The dental office was located in the second floor of the administrative section of the prison. They proposed that this office be moved to the hospital proper. In January 1934, Dr. George Hess, U. S. Public Health Service, was appointed the prison's chief medical officer, and Dr. Edward W. Twitchell became a consultant in psychiatry.
In January 1934, the assistant director for Fiscal and Business Administration, W. T. Hammack, visited Alcatraz to see the facilities for himself. He was impressed with the post exchange and its two "first-class" bowling alleys. He was of the opinion that the building would make an excellent lunchroom. As for the commandant's quarters, it was obviously the first choice for the warden's dwelling: "Today I inspected the house which has been recently vacated by Col. Weeks. It is the best house on the Island and should be used by the Warden. It is enormous plenty large enough for two sets of quarters. There are five big rooms and a porch around two sides of the house on the first floor. There are five bed rooms on the second floor and two on the third. There are four bath rooms."
The first Bureau of Prisons personnel took up residency on Alcatraz in early February. The key figure among them at this time was L.O. Mills, who had the position of chief clerk. Mills was a personal friend of Hammack's and the correspondence between the two over the next several months ranged from official business to gossipy trivia. Mills informed Hammack that the army had arranged for storage space in the casemates of the barracks, which the army had nicknamed "Chinatown" because of the similarity of the rear corridor to the streets in San Francisco's Chinatown. The Bureau of Prisons installed an elevator from the dock to an entrance through the thick scarp wall of one of the old casemates. Mills also reported that the army had volunteered to transfer the island's library of 9,000 volumes to the bureau.
Progress reports on the new construction began appearing in April 1934. During that month all of the old material was removed from the prison, holes were cut in the concrete to receive the new cell fronts and the window guards, and four carloads of steel from the Stewart Iron Works had been received and most of it transported to the prison. By the end of the month, 269 cell fronts (without doors) had been installed two of the four new stairways were in place the 12 doors to the utility corridors were put up some of the solid steel doors had been set in place and a part of the grating leading from the tops of the cells to the roof had been installed. Using a compressor to cut concrete the contractor for the emergency lighting system was digging a trench, which ran from the morgue to the commandant's office and the switchboard near the prison entrance, from there to the lighthouse, and then to the commandant's quarters. In the process of this work an electrician had injured himself by dropping a manhole cover on his foot. A small fire on the roof of the prison on April 26 gave the workmen a slight start. But it was quickly brought under control without damage.
Specifications for repairs to the wharf were prepared in May. These called for new fender and cluster piles, iron chock and chafing strips, and creosoted piles. The Duncanson-Harrelson Company completed these repairs in August 1934. By the end of May three guard towers were under construction and the fencing completed around the prison enclosure. On June 1 blueprints were completed for reconditioning seven apartments in the barracks (four on the second floor, three on the third) and two apartments in the school (one on each floor) on top of the original guardhouse. A lengthy progress report prepared in mid-June summarized the work to that time as follows:
Gun gallery, at administrative end of cell room was 85 percent complete its two floors had been laid. All the solid plate was in place. The grill work done was up to the point where the curved bars attached it to the ceiling (this would playa role in a future desperate uprising). The door to the gallery from the auditorium was in place, as was the stairway from that point up and down to the guard walk levels. The other gun gallery was 80 percent complete. The steel work in the entrance corridor and stairway to the auditorium and across that corridor, shutting off the visitors' room on the one side and the switchboard on the other, was 75 percent complete. The steel doors, shutting off the auditorium from the hallway through which the guard entered the gun gallery to the library and near the auditorium stage and to the stairway from the auditorium to the roof as well as. The grillwork around that stairway, were complete. The bars covering the screen windows fronting from the attic over the auditorium and library were in place. The steel grating at the entrance from the administrative building to the prison and the double plate and grated door from the corridor to the prison were in place. Nearly all of the window guards were installed. Several foriner doorways including two in the commandant's office and two in the basement, had been blocked with concrete.
Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes
Inside the East Gun Gallery
The armory work was 50 percent complete. The first three guard towers (being built by one Fred J. Early) were under construction, the one on the hill overlooking the shop buildings had its roof on and the catwalk to it completed. Work was underway on the walk that the guards would use leaving the armory and going around the outside of the prison to get to the guard towers. The emergency lighting plant in the morgue was ready for testing. The turbine in the power plant was complete. The Enterprise Electric Works had finished work on the big switchboard. The telephone system contract was progressing well and the U. S. Coast Guard was installing radio equipment. The Dalton Manufacturing Company completed the new bake oven and the Dohrman Hotel Supply Company had connected the new steam table in the mess hall.
A series of sawing tests were made on the steel tool-proof bars. A round bar in one of the cells was attacked with three hacksaws. The first minute of sawing seemed easy and no difficulty was experienced going through the soft exterior. However, as soon as the saw hit the hard interior no deeper impression was made, although the sawing continued for 20 minutes. Other bars were selected for testing, with the same results. Later, a guard spent a full hour sawing in each of the same grooves, but all he accomplished was the widening of the grooves. In another experiment, a tool-proof bar was placed in a vice and worked on with a piece of piano wire, grease, and emery dust . The wire cut through the bar, but wore out before the cut was completed. Despite this partial success at cutting, the steel bars were accepted as satisfactory.
After an initial hesitancy, Warden Johnston agreed that built-in tear gas should be installed in the mess hall and in the corridor between the administrative unit and the cell room. "It is impossible to predict what will happen or when or where but experience has shown that the mess hall is generally the place where agitators focus mass action." However, he did not favor gas in the cell room it could easily be gassed by throwing in gas grenades from the outside. The army had tested gas grenades in 1933. Ten grenades were thrown into the cell area and the test was so successful that the prisoners could not eat dinner that day. The gas guns were installed by August 14. The ten guns in the mess hall were arranged in three batteries and operated by remote control. The discharge switches were located on the wall outside the mess hall and were under control of the guard stationed on a catwalk near the mess hall windows. The two guns mounted in the entrance corridor were individual discharges and were controlled by the armorer, who could see the entrance gates through a vision panel set in the wall. In June of 1934 the Teletouch Corporation of New York was awarded a contract for the installation of an "electro-magnetic gun or metal detecting system" at Alcatraz. Eventually three detectors were installed: on the wharf, at the front entrance leading to the cellblock, and at the rear entrance gate through which prisoners passed going from the shops to the prison. It will be seen in this report that these metal detectors did not work well at all when first installed.
The cost of all this remodeling was born by the Public Works Administration, then under the direction of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. Two of Ickes' special agents, D. C. Burdick and A. S. Baker, inspected the new steel work and reported quite negatively on the quality of the Stewart Iron Work's performance and on the competency of Construction Engineer McFadden, who had transferred to the prison staff from the army. When he read these allegations, Assistant Director Hammack put a quick stop to them by suggesting that the agents were not too bright, and that he had complete faith in both the Stewart people and McFadden. That ended the matter Ickes' men did not trouble the prison again.
Stewart Iron Works completed its work by the end of July and on July 30, 1934, instructed the guards on the operation of the locking devices. On the same day the Coast Guard and the San Francisco Police Department tested the radio equipment and instructed the prison staff on sending messages, and the painters finished their work on August 1. Hammack inspected the completed prison on August II, the day that the first small group of prisoners arrived on the island. He did not like everything he saw he disapproved of the library having remained in the administrative unit, where no inmates should ever be. The cell cots were supported by chains that could easily be removed and used as weapons. The exit from the cellblock to the exercise yard (formerly, the stockade) adjoined a wide ledge that gave access to the gas gallery on the exterior of the building. There was too much glass in the guard towers the single guards were poorly housed in the old enlisted men's barracks, where they had no facilities, no privacy, no storage space, no janitor service and there were not enough quarters for married guards. But ready or not, the U. S. penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, was open for business.