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Alcatraz


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Alcatraz

Caging such notorious criminals as Al Capone and Robert Stroud (a.k.a. the “Birdman of Alcatraz), this facility, situated on its own island off San Francisco, boasted itself as the virtual Titanic of prisons. Several inmates managed to escape its confines (often unsuccessfully, as most were either recaptured, shot on sight or lost at sea). Inmates were frequently the worst of the worst: bootleggers, armed bank robbers, murderers and big name gangsters. All being much sought after guests of the Big House, they were each cordially invited to stick around for a while.

 

Alcatraz Island is an island located in the San Francisco Bay, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) offshore from San Francisco, California, United States. Often referred to as "The Rock" or simply "Traz", the small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prison until 1963. Beginning in November 1969, the island was occupied for more than 19 months by a group of American Indians from San Francisco, who were part of a wave of Indian activism across the nation, with public protests through the 1970s. Later, in 1972, Alcatraz became a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Today, the island's facilities are operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. In 2008 the nation's first hybrid propulsion ferry started serving the island. Alcatraz has been featured in many movies, TV shows, cartoons, books, comics, and games.



History

The first Spaniard to document the island was Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, who charted San Francisco Bay and named the island "La Isla de los Alcatraces," which translates as "The Island of the Pelicans," from the archaic Spanish alcatraz, "pelican", a word which was borrowed originally from Arabic: القطرس al-qaṭras, meaning sea eagle. In August, 1827 French Captain Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly wrote "...running past Alcatraces (Pelicans) Island...covered with a countless number of these birds. A gun fired over the feathered legions caused them to fly up in a great cloud and with a noise like a hurricane." The California Brown Pelican is not known to nest on the island today. In modern Spanish, the word alcatraz stands for gannet.
The United States Census Bureau defines the island as Block 1067, Block Group 1, Census Tract 179.02 of San Francisco County, California. There was no permanent population on the island as of the 2000 census.
It is home to the now-abandoned prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools, a seabird colony (mostly Western Gulls, cormorants, and egrets), and unique views of the coastline.



Military history

The earliest recorded owner of the island of Alcatraz is one Julian Workman, to whom it was given by Mexican governor Pio Pico in June 1846 with the understanding that the former would build a lighthouse on it. Julian Workman is the baptismal name of William Workman, co-owner of Rancho La Puente and personal friend of Pio Pico. Later in 1846, acting in his capacity as Military Governor of California, John C. Fremont, champion of Manifest Destiny and leader of the Bear Flag Republic, bought the island for $5000 in the name of the United States government from Francis Temple. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore ordered that Alcatraz Island be set aside specifically for military purposes based upon the U.S. acquisition of California from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. Fremont had expected a large compensation for his initiative in purchasing and securing Alcatraz Island for the U.S. government, but the U.S. government later invalidated the sale and paid Fremont nothing. Fremont and his heirs sued for compensation during protracted but unsuccessful legal battles that extended into the 1890s.
Following the acquisition of California by the United States as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) which ended the Mexican-American War, and the onset of the California Gold Rush the following year, the U.S. Army began studying the suitability of Alcatraz Island for the positioning of coastal batteries to protect the approaches to San Francisco Bay. In 1853, under the direction of Zealous B. Tower, the Corps of Engineers began fortifying the island, work which continued until 1858, eventuating in Fortress Alcatraz. The island's first garrison at Camp Alcatraz, numbering about 200 soldiers and 11 cannons, arrived at the end of that year. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 the island mounted 85 cannons (increased to 105 cannons by 1866) in casemates around its perimeter, though the small size of the garrison meant only a fraction of the guns could be used at one time. At this time it also served as the San Francisco Arsenal for storage of firearms to prevent them falling into the hands of Southern sympathizers. Alcatraz never fired its guns offensively, though during the war it was used to imprison Confederate sympathizers and privateers on the west coast.


Alcatraz

In popular culture

Alcatraz Island has appeared many times in popular culture, most notably "The Rock" starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. Its appeal as a film setting derives from its isolation and its history as a prison from which, officially, no prisoner ever successfully escaped. Another very famous appearance for Alcatraz Island was the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood.

 

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