Wednesday, March 10, 2010

San Francisco – Day 2 Alcatraz and Barings

Day 2 would see us finding our way around, with us mostly getting over our jet lag but still waking up early we decided to go to breakfast a little French cafe, again not surprised by the size of the portions but happy with the value for money.  Neil had a meeting with Autodesk later on in the afternoon but didn’t need us to be there so he pointed us in what he thought was the right direction for Pier 33 and Alcatraz.  It turns out that we should of taken the directions he gave us and flipped them 180 degrees and we would of been closer.  But at least we managed to find our way around San Francisco and if Neil is with one of us he won’t get lost.

San Francisco Album

So we missed our original boat but managed to get on the 11.30 with no problem and then after a short one way conversation with the guy running the tour where he let us know all the things we couldn’t do on the Island we were good to go.

Alcatraz 010 Approaching Alcatraz from the Bay

Arriving on the Island we get another orientation speech, but this one is interesting and gives us a little bit of history about the Island, from it’s beginnings as fort, then as a military prison, then onto it becoming a state penitentiary in 1943 to it’s closure in 1963, followed by it’s occupation but Native American Indians for political activist purposes and then finally it becoming a national park with full blown protected status.

Alcatraz 017 The sign welcoming you upon arrival

We were then pointed in the direction of the Audio Tour, this involves you walking around in silence with your headphones on following the directions on the tape, this was a really good way of taking the tour at your own pace as you could stop the tape when ever you needed too, although very strange when you take your headphones off and look around and everyone is quiet, it’s a little creepy.

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D Block with the full isolation cells at the far end

We are led through the prison via general population, with the tape recounting all the events in Alcatraz’s history including the riots that saw a number of guards and inmates killed whilst foiling an escape attempt, to where Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz were housed in D block aka Isolation.

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A selection of the famous inmates held here, notice Al Capone looks quite happy to be there.

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Inside one of the Isolation blocks known as “The Hole”

Once out of isolation we are taken outside and this shows you just how tantalizingly close these inmates were to “freedom”, where you can see and even hear San Francisco on a good day.

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The view just outside of D Block’s doors near the control room

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The burnt out shell of the warden’s house on the Bay side of the Island

It came as a surprise to me that inmates weren’t the only ones that stayed on the Island, over 70 guards and their families also lived full time here, in a different part of the Island, but that means that this was some children’s first home.  Apparently it was a really quiet and safe place to live as inmates would only be allowed outside for 2 hours every day in the recreation yard on the other side of the Island to the families, that would also be during the day when the children were on the main land at school.  The Warden would also live full-time on the Island in a mansion, with a few trusted inmates doing all his chores whilst under guard.    

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The cell with the head and escape route at the back of the picture

Back inside we are told the story of the supposed escape from Alcatraz, when 3 inmates dug our the back of their cells with spoons, climbed up the pipes in the wall out escaped to freedom, they also made fake heads out of toilet paper, soap and hair to fool the guards.  Although no one actually knows if they escaped or drowned on the crossing over to the Bay, either way Alcatraz records maintain that no one has ever successfully escaped the maximum security prison.


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