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Interesting Facts About Alcatraz
On 11th August 1934, one of the most famous facilities in human history saw its first residents – but they certainly weren’t there by choice. At 9:40 in the morning, Alcatraz ‘welcomed’ its first group of prisoners. In total, 137 arrived at the prison that would go down in history as one of the most brutal penitentiaries America had ever seen. Given its dark history, Alcatraz has appeared in countless movies, TV shows and books – however, how true are the rumours surrounding the prison? We have collected together some interesting facts that you may be surprised to learn about this infamous institute.
Although Alcatraz is no longer an active prison now, it continues to attract hundreds of visitors a year. However, not everyone visits because of its dark history. When the prison was active, the officers and their families (yes, their families – we will get onto that!) planted beautiful lush gardens. Most of the plants didn’t survive, however, those that did flourished and become a real attraction. Back in 2003, Gardens of Alcatraz and the National Park Service joined forces to restore these gardens to their natural beauty. Since then, the gardens are still being maintained and cared for.
It Never Reached Capacity
Despite the rumours that Alcatraz was full of prisoners, this wasn’t actually the case. Alcatraz never actually reached full capacity. Although there were still a large number of prisoners, the prison was never as full as it could have been. The average number of prisoners detained at Alcatraz was 260, which is substantially less than we would have expected.
Alcatraz, of course, was heavily guarded. Given its high-security status, there were hundreds of employees working for the prison. It would have been inconvenient to keep going backwards and forwards, on and off the island, so a lot of families actually remained and lived there. The children would play and even had a swimming pool and bowling alley to keep them entertained. Despite them living in close proximity to the inmates at Alcatraz, it was forbidden for anyone to make any sort of contact with them. However, it was reported that a lot of them did witness new prisoners entering the facility, as the noise from their shackles echoed through their homes
During the years Alcatraz was an active prison, people did attempt to escape. In total, 36 prisoners tried to make a break for freedom. However, how many of these people were actually successful? Well, that is difficult to say. On record, 23 of the 36 escape attempts were captured, 6 were shot and 2 drowned – so, not very successful, right? However, if you have been keeping track of the numbers, you will notice that 5 of these prisoners weren’t accounted for. What happened to them? At the time, they were presumed to have drowned in the harsh waters surrounding the prison. But there has been evidence to suggest that these prisoners actually made it to shore safely and unharmed – will we ever really know what happened to them?
A lot of people don’t realise that Alcatraz was actually the first lighthouse on the West Coast. This lighthouse was initially activated in 1854 and was used to help guide ships into the San Francisco Bay right up until the early 1900s when a building prevented the lighthouse from functioning. We found this fact really interesting, as the island was initially used to guide people to safety, not prevent them from escaping entirely.
One of the most famous prisoners taken to Alcatraz was Al Capone. Al Capone, or ‘Scarface,’ was a gangster and businessman who was sentenced at the age of 33. Capone knew the harsh realities of prison life and knew that there was no escaping Alcatraz. Therefore, he decided to make the most of his time at the prison. He became a model prisoner and was rewarded for his good behaviour and allowed to play his banjo in the jails band, the Rock Islanders. Yes, you read right – Alcatraz had a band. This was a great privilege for a prisoner to receive and Capone was very grateful for this opportunity. While in prison, he even wrote a song named ‘Madonna Mia,’ and performed it to his fellow inmates.
Al Capone was both feared and loved by everyone at the prison. However, he had his own problems. Capone often worried that someone would murder him when out in the yard with the other prisoners, so he was given permission to spend time practicing his banjo in the shower rooms. According to reports, people believe you can still hear his banjo being played to this very day…
Alcatraz has now been closed since 21st March 1963 and is only open to tourists and guides. However, the legacy it has left behind will continue to fascinate the public for many more years to come. We hope you have learned a thing or two about the infamous prison and, who knows, maybe you might fancy a visit to hear Al Capone’s banjo for yourself.