Alcatraz has been closed since 1963, but it’s still well-known as America’s strongest (and scariest) prison.
- Alcatraz Fort was built on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco in the 1850s. It was used as a military fort until 1910 when it was refurbished and became a U.S. Army military prison.
- In 1933, the Department of Justice acquired it and in 1934, it became a federal prison.
- America in the 1920s and 1930s was suffering the effects of the Great Depression and Prohibition. Crime was at an all-time high, especially in cities like New York and Chicago. Federal leaders hoped an escape-proof prison would discourage gangsters and other criminals.
- The cold water and strong currents of the Pacific Ocean around Alcatraz Island made escaping very difficult. Alcatraz was known as the strongest prison in America.
- The prison had a three story cell house with four cell blocks. It included a library, barbershop, dining room, and visitation room.
- Each cell had a bed, desk, washbasin, toilet, and blanket.
- Prisoners could do work, such as sewing, woodworking, or laundry, and play sports like baseball and basketball if they behaved well. Those that were violent were sent to The Hole, dark cells at the back of the prison where the prisoners were often brutally beaten by prison guards.
- The first prisoners arrived in August, 1934, accompanied by 60 FBI agents. They included bank robbers, murderers, and gangsters.
- Some of the most famous inmates include mobsters Al Capone and Mickey Cohen.
- Mark Twain visited the island and said it was very eerie and cold, even in the summer.
- 36 men tried to escape from Alcatraz. Most of them were either shot or drowned. One group escaped and possibly survived, crossing the water on a boat made from raincoats.
- Eerie: creepy
- Refurbished: cleaned and fixed up
Questions and Answers
Question: Why did Alcatraz close?
Answer: Alcatraz had a terrible reputation and many people thought it should be closed because the prisoners were treated inhumanely. Additionally, it was a very expensive prison because of its location and the building’s age.
Today it’s owned and managed by the National Parks Service. More than 1.5 million people visit the museum here annually.
Visit the Alcatraz Island website.