Interesting Fact about Alcatraz
Interesting Fact about Alcatraz

40 Interesting Facts about Alcatraz

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published September 4, 2017
  • Spanish explorers discovered Alcatraz Island in 1775. They named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, which means “Island of the Pelicans.” Prisoners later called it “The Rock.”[5]
  • In 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) reserved Alcatraz Island for military use. A fortress was built on it and about 100 cannons were placed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay.[5]
  • The largest group of Native Americans imprisoned at Alcatraz was 19 Hopi “hostiles.” They were imprisoned because they refused to farm the way the U.S. government wanted them to. They also opposed forced education in government boarding schools.[2]
  • The "Escape from Alcatraz Marathon” is held every year to show that it is possible to escape from Alcatraz and live. Created in 1980, it includes a 1.5-mile swim to San Francisco, an 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run.[9]
  • In 1962, inmate John Paul Scott covered himself in lard, squeezed through a window, and swam to shore. Police later found him at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He is the only known person to have escaped Alcatraz alive.[4]
  • Al Capone Fact
    Capone began to show progressive signs of neurosyphilis while imprisoned at Alcatraz
  • The most notorious prisoner at Alcatraz was the famous gangster, Al “Scarface” Capone, who spent 4 ½ years there in the 1930s. He was known to play the banjo during his time there, and visitors today claim that they can still hear his music echo through the prison.[4]
  • In 1921, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary added a hospital, mess hall, additional cells, and other buildings. At the time, it was the world’s largest recorded concrete building.[1]
  • According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Alcatraz usually held 260–275 prisoners, which was less than 1% of the entire federal inmate population. It had a holding capacity for 336.[5]
  • During its 30 years in operation as a federal prison, Alcatraz held a total of 1,576 men.[5]
  • There were no women prisoners at Alcatraz. There were also no female guards or administrators.[5]
  • Alcatraz was mainly for prisoners who were “troublemakers” at other prisons. Usually an inmate would spend 6 to 8 years at Alcatraz before he was “reformed” enough to be sent back to his own prison. The typical Alcatraz inmate had a sentence of 20–25 years to serve in another federal prison.[8]
  • Now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz boasts over 1 million tourists annually, making it one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.[4]
  • While it was a military prison, Alcatraz held Confederate sympathizers, those accused of treason during the Civil War (1861–1865), and “rebellious” Native Americans. The inmate population continued to increase during the Spanish-American War.[5]
  • Today he will be transported to the healthful but breezy atmosphere of Alcatraz Island, where he can ruminate, ad nauseum and chew the bitter end of treason.

    - Daily Alta, on the arrest of a confederate sympathiser (18622)

  • In 1969, a group of about 100 Native American activists led by Mohawk Richard Oakes occupied Alcatraz, citing an 1868 treaty that gave unoccupied federal land to Native Americans. Federal marshals removed the last of group in June 1971.[2]
  • When it opened, Alcatraz was considered the most secure prison in the world. Reporters called it “America’s Devil Island,” after a French high-security prison in South America.[4]
  • Alcatraz was also known as “The Rock” because it sits on a rocky, 12-acre sandstone island.[1]
  • When William Henry Ambrose was paroled in July 1935, he reported the inhuman treatment of prisoners at Alcatraz. He said the strict rule of silence and the daily monotony created intense feelings of isolation and hopelessness.[4]
  • Alcatraz prisoners as well as officers and their families grew gardens while stationed on the island. The hardy plants have survived decades of neglect after the prison closed. Rehabilitated in 2003, the gardens are now known as the “Gardens of Alcatraz” and symbolize the importance of gardening to the human spirit.[7]
  • Alcatraz Garden Fact
    The gardens at Alcatraz tell a story of human hope, endurance, and strength

  • While several of America’s toughest criminals were imprisoned at Alcatraz, no one was ever executed there. Inmates condemned to death were typically sent to San Quentin.[8]
  • Several prisoners died at Alcatraz. Eight prisoners were murdered by other inmates, 5 committed suicide, and 15 died from illnesses.[4]
  • Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed in 1963 due to high operating costs and constant building decay due to the salty sea air.[5]
  • The Miwok and Ohlone people lived near Alcatraz before European explorers arrived. They believed evil spirits lived there and avoided the island. While it is unlikely they lived on the island because it had no freshwater, they did deport their criminals to live on the island in isolation.[5]
  • After the Spanish discovery of Alcatraz Island in 1759 and the subsequent spread of Christianity, some Native Americans sought refuge there rather than become Christian.[5]
  • Alcatraz Lighthouse Facts
    The Alcatraz Island Lighthouse is located at the southern end of the island near the entrance to the prison
  • Alcatraz was home to the West Coast’s first operational lighthouse. The 40-foot-tall lighthouse was first lit on June 1, 1854, and its light could be seen 14 miles out to sea. It was rebuilt in 1909 and is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the West Coast.[1]
  • Aside from Al Capone, other famous Alcatraz inmates included George “Machine Gun” Kelly, who spent 17 years there for kidnapping, and Robert Stroud (“Birdman of Alcatraz) who served 17 years for murder.[4]
  • The inmate who spent the most time at Alcatraz was gangster Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz (1907–1979). Listed as “Public Enemy No. 1,” Karpowicz spent 25 years on the island.[4]
  • During its time of operation, there were 14 attempted escapes from Alcatraz, involving 36 inmates. Of these prisoners, 23 were captured, 6 were killed during their attempt, 2 drowned, and 5 went missing and were thought to be drowned. Only one person is known to escape and live.[4]
  • The most famous battle in Alcatraz occurred May 2–4, 1946, when 6 inmates gained access to weapons but not the keys to escape. They killed 2 correctional officers before the U.S. Marines were called to end the uprising. Three inmates died in battle and 2 received a death sentence during their trial.[4]
  • Several prisoners went insane while incarcerated at Alcatraz. One prisoner chopped of all the fingers on his left hand. Another tried to slash his own throat with a pair of eyeglasses; he was later killed when he tried to escape.[4]
  • Alcatraz hosts the Alcatraz Alumni Association for the children who grew up on the island. “The Rock” was not just home for criminals but it was also home to the children of the prison staff as well.[5]
  • One of the tougher punishments on Alcatraz was a stint in the “Strip Cell.” Inmates sent there were stripped naked and given water and bread just once a day. They were also given a mattress, but only at night. The toilet was a hole in the floor, and there was no sink. The room was pitch-dark.[4]
  • Alcatraz has become something of a bird watcher’s paradise. Birds there include cormorants, orange-footed pigeon guillemots, snowy egrets, and black-crowned night herons.[5]
  • Bird Watching Alcatraz Fact
    The human history at Alcatraz is fascinating--and so is the wildlife

  • Alcatraz is known for being one of the most haunted places in America. One of the most popular places for ghost hunters is “The Utility Corridor.” Inmates Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard were shot and killed there during an escape attempt, and it is said they still haunt its halls.[4]
  • Alcatraz haunts popular culture and makes appearances in several movies, such as Murder in the First (1995), The Rock (1996), and several video games. A 1979 thriller titled Escape from Alcatraz chronicles the story of three men who escaped Alcatraz in 1962, although it is never known whether they survived the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.[4]
  • Mark Twain once visited Alcatraz and noted that it was as “cold as winter, even in the summer months.”[5]
  • The reputation of Alcatraz has outstripped its actual physicality. The prison was rough, but many convicts appreciated the high security and the large ratio of guards to inmates. Former convicts said that while they didn’t like Alcatraz, they felt it was the safest place they ever did time in.[1]
  • A Japanese restaurant titled “Alcatraz ER” is styled after the prison’s hospital. Its menu includes human intestines (a long sausage in a kidney dish), a penis on a bed of lettuce (another sausage), and a drink called the “brain buster.”[6]
  • Alcatraz Cell Fact
    Cells at Alcatraz had a small sink with cold running water, small sleeping cot, and a toilet
  • Cells in Alcatraz were smaller than most people’s closets. In B & C blocks, the cells were 5 feet by 9 feet, which included a toilet and sink with cold water only.[4]
  • A 2013 routine rat survey on Alcatraz revealed that the island is home to glowing millipedes.[3]
  • During the first 15 years at Alcatraz, its members were prominent gangsters, thieves, bank robbers, leaders, and other men instrumental in organized crime Because of this, inmates had intellect, skills and character that were not found in other state penitentiaries.[8]

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