Of course, Alcatraz Island wasn’t always a prison. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore declared the island a military reservation. Troops used the island as a place of defense for the city of San Francisco. It was also the site of the first lighthouse in the west.
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Alcatraz Island is one of the top tourist destinations in the San Francisco Bay area. As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it is protected under the umbrella of the National Park Service along with John Muir Woods National Monument, Marin Headlands, Presidio and Angel Island State Park.
The view of The Golden Gate bridge from the water just as the sun began its descent was beautiful, just as the view of the skyline from the island was. For a prison, Alcatraz was situated in a particularly beautiful place.
But it’s most well known for its years as a maximum security penitentiary (1934-1963). Some of the nations most infamous criminals spent years of their life at Alcatraz, including the likes of Al Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.
I was especially impressed with the audio tour of the facility, narrated by past prison guards and prisoners. It was like stepping into the pages of history, listening to the stories of escape atttempts and daily prison life.
It strikes me as a little odd that Alcatraz Island is now a National Park. Why do we as Americans find the prison society interesting enough to warrent making it into a tourist destination?
Truthfully, walking the halls and examining the vacant cells reminded me of how lonely and boring life in jail must be. In general prisoners days were filled with monotony and tedium, hardly something tintillating enough for the average population to revere. However, I could not deny my intense interest in Alcatraz, even a voyeuristic fascination of it.
The boat ride, the audio tour and the views of and around Alcatraz all merit a visit to the island. However, I would suggest leaving young children at home if you really want to enjoy this excursion. I could not imagine Big E or little g being patient or interested enough to really appreciate it.