Saturday 4 May 2013

3 reasons to visit Alcatraz, San Francisco

If you’re making a trip to San Francisco, be sure to visit Alcatraz a.k.a The Rock. A former prison, it is now a popular tourist destination. Located on Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz is a short ferry ride away from Pier 33. In 1933, it became a federal prison, and during its 29 years, it housed notable criminals such as Al Capone and Mickey Cohen.

My visit here was really intriguing. You are given an audio tour enabling you to relive the days when Alcatraz was still in operation. Aside from a wealth of history and interesting stories, a tour of this infamous prison allows you to get a glimpse into the life of the prisoners; how they lived, the food they ate, the large, open bathrooms they had to use, and more.

Here are a few reasons why I feel a visit to Alcatraz is certainly a must.

1) The infamous escape:
June 1962 saw a real-life ‘prison break’, and it was a successful one. Three criminals, Frank Morris and brothers Clarence Anglin, John Anglin escaped Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island on a makeshift raft never to be found again; even though remnants of the raft were found washed up on a nearby island.

The escape attempt, which was carried out on the night of June 11, 1962, involved fabricated dummy heads made from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair (harvested from the prison barber shop) that were left in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. The men escaped from their cells by crawling through holes in the cell walls, which they began digging over the span of a year. They dug at the concrete around the air vents in their cells with spoons and a drill-like device fashioned from a vacuum cleaner.

This led them into an unused service corridor, from where they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof. The trio then climbed down from the rooftop, scaled the prison’s fence and assembled a raft from the prison’s standard-issue raincoats and contact cement. They pumped up the raft on the northeastern coast of the island. At around 10 pm they climbed aboard and started paddling. In the past, any prisoner who tried to flee The Rock, as it became known, was either captured, killed or drowned. But this time, they succeeded. Alcatraz was subsequently closed in 1963, a year after the escape.

Whether these prisoners survived or died en route to freedom in unknown till today, as they were never heard from again. US Marshal Michael Dyke has personally been investigating for almost 10 years.

2) The souvenirs:
Aside from cheeky posters and T-shirts with graphic prints and witty lines, there are many souvenirs at the in-house store that are worth taking back home. Try the coffee mug that resembles the steel mug prisoners formerly used or the Alcatraz soap that says ‘you’re expected to bathe in a reasonable length of time’.   

3) Get inside a jail: 
At the cost of sounding just a tad crazy, clicking a picture inside a jail was super fun! During your tour of this former prison, there are a few jail cells with open doors for people to see as well as capture it on film. A rare opportunity, and certainly a pleasant one, considering the only other way you’d get a picture in a prison cell is when you’re actually in it, it made for a one-of-a-kind photo for me.

Quick tips
  • The ferry to Alcatraz Island is located down on Fisherman's Wharf
  • Give yourself anywhere from two-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours for your visit to Alcatraz. You can tour the cell house as well as the gardens on the island.
  • The weather can be unpredictable, so take a light jacket and umbrella.
  • Keep in mind that large backpacks and bags are not allowed on the tour.


Siddhartha Joshi said...

I was there for six months, still never went there! Walking on the streets of SF aimlessly was so tempting :) Maybe next time...

Ruchika Vyas said...

Oh, you missed something. But, on the other hand, there should always be something to go back for :)
And yes, walking around there is just amazing. I did a lot of that too.