The Knitting Nurse

Rambles and Travels

California Dreaming Part 6 of ? – Alcatraz – Bad Guys that Crochet?

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My fingers are on fire!  A bit more of that CA trip in October to share. 

ALCATRAZ:  Why are we fascinated with the morbid? The oddities?  Creepy things like Alcatraz?  Despite its negative past, this place was fascinating to me and a highlight of the trip.  

 A little history behind SF and it’s Alcatraz island:  The island was not inhabited full time, extreme weather, no fresh water, too isolated.  A National Park, “The Rock” was really just a lonely island, visited by the Ohlone and Miwok Indians.   Spanish settled the Bay area in 1776.  It was taken by Yankees in 1847.  Once the Gold Rush hit around 1849, San Francisco had grown from 300 to more than 20,000 inhabitants. Wow!  Growing pains?  I hear it was pretty bawdy.

Alcatraz Island, being directly in the middle of the harbor, was turned into a fort.  When the Civil War started, it was laden with cannons, a fortified gate and a brick citadel.  Apparently, the rich city was a tempting spot to pillage for Confederate soldiers.  Something to read up on, I think.  At this time, some prisoners were held here, some being soldiers who deserted, real criminals, Native Americans and Spanish American War convicts.   It wasn’t until 1934 that it become an official Federal Pen. 

The 1930’s were a time of crime, spurred on by the prohibition.  What a silly idea, I think.  Thus, The Rock became home for the yuckiest of the yuckiest prisoners, troublemakers unsuitable for other locations.  Famed men such as Al Capone, Doc Barker, and Machine Gun Kelly were high-profile prisoners.  Of note, they were never able to have African American prisoners there. They tried. The other inmates had too much hatred and it posed a serious threat to their lives.

Some tried to escape.  None were successful.  Or were they?  Only one escape never provided bodies to prove unsuccessful.  In 1962, three men carried out an escape so brilliantly planned, I can only wonder if it worked.  Are they somewhere in South America, silent to the grave?  While touring the site, I latched onto a guided talk. This man LOVED his job, I could see, and knew, probably, everything to know about the island and it’s history.  I loved it!  He detailed that escape to the “T.”

Alcatraz was closed in 1963.  No longer cost efficient, they had to bring in all water and ship out all waste!  In 1972 Alcatraz was spared the bulldozing that had begun and protected as a National Park. Whew! 

Lacking any four-legged predators, the island is a safe haven for numerous birds including cormorants and herons.  Most of the island is off limits to protect these critters. The rest is a smartly conducted tour with some hiking trails to boot.

The main prison bldg tour consists of wearing an MP3 player with a narrated tour by former prisoners and employees. It’s a great way to do it, I thought.

Much of the bldgs have crumbled away. The salt-laden moisture is crumbling the concrete, thus destroying the metal framework, thus destroying the concrete.  I wonder how long it will stand for?

It amazed me that there were whole families that grew up on this island, sheltered from the nastiness inside the prison.  Kids of the wardens got on boats each AM and rode to school. Imagine?

Some pics:

View into the harbor. 

IMG_4298 by you.


Looking up onto the island from the $28 boat ride…

IMG_4256 by you.

 Native Americans once occupied the island as a means of gentle protest. See the “Indians Welcome” painted on the wall below?

IMG_4257 by you.


  IMG_4261  Cells were tiny.  Dark, stinky corridors went behind so repair guys didn’t have to access the inside of the cells. Also made for a couple escape routes on occasion.

IMG_4266 by you.

 Yeesh…creepy…  Below, the exercise yard.  They played baseball in there.  Imagine being so close to civilization, hearing the city (in the other directions) so close.

IMG_4262 by you.

IMG_4268    IMG_4269

 Ha Ha!  I almost peed my pants when I looked in these cells. Apparently, some if the inmates were quite crafty, shown by the pink and white balls of yarn for crocheting and the paint by number paintings shown above.  Really…pink?  If an inmate was to crochet, surely he wouldn’t be caught with PINK yarn?  ; )

Below:  One of the fake heads used to fool wardens during the great escape, carefully crafted using REAL hair the barber saved up for them.  These guys were genius! See the enlarged hole through the plumbing duct in the back?Used silverware. Not sure how they got it out as it was always counted, in the mess hall.

IMG_4276 by you.

IMG_4279  Speaking of mess hall, this seemed like the most dangerous area of the prison.  Imagine the sheer number of men?  The sharp, pointy objects in the kitchen (All cooks were behind safety bars.)  The object above was a tear gas canister, numerous throughout the mess hall.  Should a riot start, and lock down result, these would have emptied.  The wardens inside likely not lucky.  I remember hearing of only one bad riot in the mess hall.  A clever warden used a BIG voice and got them all to sit back down (after firing a couple bullets, I believe).  Memory is getting fuzzy. 

IMG_4289 by you.  Officers Club:  was a socializing place. I think it burned and this is what is left. Pity…

IMG_4284 by you.

IMG_4292  Civil War era cannon.  Those walls were 6 feet thick!  Below, a photo of a photo of actual Civil War occupation.  How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall…IMG_4293 by you.

 Lastly, on the way out, spotted this little boat pushing a HUGE cargo boat in.  Amazing…it’s another world.

IMG_4301 by you.

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