Unusual Tourist Sites: Alcatraz Island Prison San Francisco, California Part 3
About the unusual tourist site of Alcatraz Island Prison in San Francisco, California, history and information.
San Francisco, California
When it closed in 1963, Alcatraz was crumbling, anachronistic, and the most expensive of Federal prisons, costing the taxpayer $15 a day for each inmate.
Alcatraz had sat empty for a year when a party of 5 Sioux Indians landed on the island and claimed it on the basis of a U.S. treaty with their nation which allowed Indians off the reservation to claim unused Federal land. Government officials showed no more inclination to honor that treaty than any other Indian treaty and the party soon left. In November of 1969, while San Franciscans were debating a grandiose scheme to turn the former penitentiary into a space museum and amusement center, a group of 89 men, women, and children representing 78 Indian tribes occupied the island, hoisted a blue flag bearing a red tepee and peace pipe, and prepared to make the island their home. Their manifesto said in part:
We have learned that violence breeds only more violence and we therefore have carried on our occupation of Alcatraz in a peaceful manner, hoping the Government will act accordingly. . . . Be it known, however, that we are quite serious in our demand to be given ownership of this island. . . . We are here to stay.
After 2 cold, bleak winters the number of settlers had dwindled to 15 and on June 11, 1971, Federal marshals and the Coast Guard forcibly but peacefully removed them.
From its 1st day as a Federal penitentiary, Alcatraz held an attraction for tourists, even if they could see it only through high-powered telescopes. Picture postcards of the island, with "Having Wonderful Time--Wish You Were Here" printed across them, were popular items. In the fall of 1973 Alcatraz, now part of the National Park Service's Golden Gate recreation area, was opened to the public. Visitors can see the cell blocks, visit the "deep 6" where men were held in isolation, the visiting room where, among others, Mama Capone came to see Al, and the cell where the "Bird Man" did his studying and writing. For some it is claustrophobic and oppressing; for others, walking through the Big House is the thrill of a lifetime.
Check locally for time schedules and current boat fees to the island.
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