Alcatraz

Monday morning we left the other Pilling family’s house in Placerville and headed back to San Fran. I wanted to go back to the bridge to get some better photos but the weather was pretty bad and I was tired and there were so many people! So we headed straight to the pier to board our ferry to Alcatraz. On the way we stopped at Lombard Street. The famous crooked road. We drove down it and it wasn’t too exciting. It was pretty much how my dad drove on an empty street when I was a kid – haha. The street was packed with tourists and we had to squeeze between them all to get some photos.

The cellhouse

The morgue.Β 

No prisoners were executed on the island. They had no facilities for capital punishment. If inmates were sentenced to the death penalty they were transferred to another prison where they were put into a gas chamber. But, there were several deaths on the island. Either from being killed by other inmates, suicide, or natural illnesses. This room in the picture above was originally where they had the generator for the island, but they eventually used it to store the dead bodies while they waited to be shipped back to the city. No autopsies were performed here. This was just to keep the bodies in because it was cool. The table on the right is where they would lay the bodies. Creeeepy.

When new inmates arrive at Alcatraz, they are stripped and made to have showers. They know no privacy at Alcatraz. They used to have cubicles but inmates were abusing each other so they got rid of the walls so the prison officers could keep watch. They were then given prison uniform which you can see in some of the photos above.

The aisles of cells are given names like streets. They have Michigan Ave, Broadway, etc. You are given an audio tour when you enter the cellhouse. It’s really cool because the people giving the tour are former prison officers and even some of the inmates themselves. It’s really awesome and sometimes surreal to hear all of their stories from Alcatraz!

This place was called “Isolation”. It was essentially where you got sent for being naughty haha. Those cells are kept dark and I guess you were there to learn a lesson. There was a board of some famous prisoners. To be honest I hadn’t heard of any of them, but I read up on the Birdman who was super creepy. You can read about him here. Most of the prisoners weren’t there for really terrible crimes. A lot of them were there for stuff like tax evasion or robbery and stuff like that. Although, like the Birdman, some were there for serious crimes like murder.

Okay, so this was pretty crazy. Bernard Coy (the top left picture above) came up with a plan to escape Alcatraz. You can see that he worked in the library and while there designed this plan. He starved himself so he could fit through the cell bars. He also designed this tool that would open the bars wider. You can see that in the top picture here. He came up with a plan so he would slip through the bars of the gun gallery (shown in a picture below. This is where all the weapons were stored and a guard would monitor it from the inside), then use prison guns and keys to free five accomplices and race to shore. Unfortunately for him, it all went wrong. The conspirators had taken too many officers hostage and locked them in some of the cells. One of the officers had hidden the exit key. The escape siren went off and the conspirators were discovered. Some of the attemptees were executed for wanting to kill the hostages, some were killed in the seige and one was not executed.

The escape started the Battle of Alcatraz. The army or navy or military or something came in and through grenades through this roof in what is called the ‘Cutoff’. The marks from the grenades are still imprinted in the ground below as shown in the following picture.

In some of the cells you can see what the inmates did for leisure time. A lot of them painted. Some did crochet, played instruments or games.

This is the area where inmates would visit with their families or friends. Their families were only allowed to visit them once a month. One prisoner had his parents come and tell him his sister won’t be visiting him at all because they told her he was dead. Several years later he got his first visit in years and he couldn’t believe it. His sister, who was now all grown up, had come to visit him after finding out he was actually in prison. It was really sad to hear!

The prison guards uniform

This is the remains of an officers home. It was burnt in a fire. Most of the prison officers lived on the island with their families. Some had houses like this and others lived in a bunch of units. There were a lot of children on the grounds who all played together. You couldn’t pay me enough to work or even live on Alcatraz Island. I’m such a scaredy cat!

A model of the island

Yeah, it was pretty cold and I wasn’t very good at hiding it. This view would look really amazing on a clear night I think. You can see the entire city from this side of the island. The inmates said on New Years eve you could hear what you were missing out on. People on the main island were celebrating and laughing and dancing and they would have fireworks. What a sad life to be stuck in a place like that and not be able to enjoy a free life.

The control room

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Okay, so this was crazy! Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin made a creative escape attempt in the history of Alcatraz. They made dummy heads out of soap, cement, and paint and left them under their blankets in the middle of the night. They had been collecting spoons every time they went to eat. They dug out small vents at the back of their cells and one night, when they placed the dummy heads under their blankets, they crawled through the vents, scaled the utility corridor behind the cells and up to the roof, slid down a stove pipe, and crept to the shoreline. They reached the bay and as they slipped into the water – using a raft fashioned out of a raincoat – they met an icy current rapidly ebbing out to sea. They were never seen again. Some say they got to South America and started new lives there, but I guess we’ll never know. One of the guards walking down the hall of the cells got to their cell rooms and they were still sleeping. He tried to wake them up by yelling at them, then when he tapped the bed the head rolled off. At first he freaked out but realized it was just a dummy and that’s when they realized these prisoners had escaped. SUPER interesting!


This is the kitchen and dining hall. They had to make an outline of the knives they had hanging because so many knives would go missing and they had to find a way of monitoring that. Some prisoners would steal the knives and attack each other or some of the workers.

The prison closed in 1963 due to rising costs and deteriorating facilities. The above is a picture of the prisoners leaving Alcatraz on the last day.

Okay, so this was really cool. At the end of the tour we went through the bookstore. There was this book written by one of the prisoners about his time in Alcatraz. I looked at the back of the book and there was a picture of his mug shot and another one of him in his 80s. I kinda got creeped out by it. We went through the next room around the corner and this old guy is sitting there signing books and I realized it was actually the prisoner/author!! His name is William Baker. He was in Alcatraz from 1957 – 1960. He attempted three escapes from three different prisons. In 1957, at the age of 23, he was sent to USP Alcatraz, the nation’s first super-max prison. While he was there, he learned how to manufacture and cash counterfeit payroll checks, a “trade” that repeatedly landed him behind bars for the next 50+ years. Bryton bought his booked and he signed it. That’s gonna be an interesting read!

We were on the island for a good 2 hours. We headed back to the city and walked along Pier 39 before getting something to eat.

Alcatraz was super interesting!!!! I think it would be really cool to go at night because that’ll be really scary and fun. Although I’ll probably cry. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ever in San Fran. If you wanna read more about Alcatraz, thisΒ website will tell you a lot about it’s history!

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