History happened here: Alcatraz closed 50 years ago this month

It's been 50 years since the infamous Alcatraz closed as a federal prison. Photo: Todd DeFeo

SAN FRANCISCO, March 26, 2013 – It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 50 years since the infamous Alcatraz closed as a federal prison.

The notorious federal prison, known as The Rock, operated from 1934 until 1963 and saw the likes of Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and James “Whitey” Bulger pass through its halls. The institution has been the subject of books, television specials and movies and remains a topic of interest half a century after its official closing.

Even though Alcatraz is more myth than reality, the federal penitentiary-turned-museum attracts more than one million visitors annually. And, stepping off the boat onto the island so-often shrouded in the city’s famous fog, it’s hard not to imagine the sense of hopelessness prisoners had when they were transported to the prison.

“Alcatraz was never no good for nobody,” Frank Weatherman, the last prisoner to leave the island, is often quoted as saying.

To give some context to the island’s history, consider these statistics, collected from various sources:

  • 336: The number of “remodeled” cells at the federal penitentiary (the island was home to a military prison before the federal prison)
  • 302: The prison’s peak population, reached in 1937
  • 260: The average prison population between 1935 and 1960
  • 222: The prison’s lowest population, hit in 1947
  • 38: The number of deaths reported at the prison
  • 36: The number of prisoners who tried to escape
  • 29: The number of years Alcatraz was open as a federal penitentiary
  • 27: The number of the final group of prisoners to leave on March 21, 1963
  • 17: The years that Robert Stroud (better known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz”) was incarcerated in the penitentiary
  • 14: The number of escape attempts
  • 10: The number of dollars per day it cost to house an inmate by the time the facility was closed in 1963
  • 8: The number of murders on the island
  • 5: The number of suicides at the federal penitentiary
  • 4.5: The number of years Al Capone was incarcerated on The Rock
  • 0: The number of people who successfully escaped (excluding Sean Connery, of course)

Alcatraz is a worthy attraction for anyone visiting San Francisco. To visit, a boat takes travelers on a 10-15-minute cruise to the island.

To further help bring the prison experience to life, be sure to pick up an audio tour and hear about Alcatraz from prisoners themselves. Also, make sure to buy tickets in advance; many of the tickets for purchase on and around the waterfront are not legit.

Todd DeFeo is an award-winning reporter and marketer, but his true passion is seeking out the bizarre roadside attractions, one-of-a-kind roadhouses and unique destinations that make the world worth exploring. He is also editor of The Travel Trolley travel blog.

Follow Todd DeFeo on Twitter and Facebook.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Todd DeFeo

Todd DeFeo jouned The Washington Times Communities in May 2012. He covers travel and Georgia. A marketing professional who never gave up his award-winning journalistic ways, DeFeo revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He also serves as editor of The Travel Trolley.


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