By Ralph Hipp
Just say the word "Alcatraz" and many followers of the nation's crime scene know what you mean. The inescapable rock island between San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge (see my blog from Tuesday for that!!) has held many of our country's most infamous criminals: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Creepy Carpis (wasn't he originally from Topeka??) Pretty Boy Floyd, and one of its most famous residents, Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz. So you can imagine how pumped we were crossing over on the ferry to see Alcatraz for ourselves. Many tried to escape, including Clint Eastwood, but all the attempts failed; their real-life attempts ending in death.
Preserved now as a National Historic Site, we were taken for this inside look at the cells, halls and administrative offices of Alcatraz last week. Alcatraz (given the spanish name for the pelicans who lived there first) was originally a military fortification in the 1850s, and a jailing spot for the war prisoners during the Spanish-American War. It was not until 1934 that it became the famed maximum security lockup for America's Most Wanted in the organized crime scene. Capone said, "Alcatraz has got me licked." Irate inmates smashed windows and tried to break through the bars when they couldn't take it anymore. Still Alcatraz offered them the best meals in the federal prison system, and hot showers to keep the prisoners from getting used to making a break for it in the cold waters outside.
I was amazed to learn that it was actually Robert Kennedy who ordered the shutdown of Alcatraz in March of 1963, because it cost too much for the government to run it anymore. The inmates were given one final meal in the huge dining hall before they boarded ferries for transport to other federal prisons. What to do with it then? Well, one idea was placing a West Coast Statue of Liberty out there to welcome immigrants who crossed into America under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was also considered as a launching pad for water missiles which would splash down into wildfire regions to help put the fires out. Seriously! Can you believe that? But of course, the answer was preserving it as it's always been.. "The Rock" which through legend, lore and fact was the toughest federal prison of them all. Enjoy our pictures from the inside.
The view looking out into San Francisco Bay is actually spectacular. The Golden Gate Bridge would be just off to your left here.
And Sheila got a nice shot of me as we were allowed to leave Alcatraz with San Francisco in the background. What a trip!