On this day, 77 years ago, the first group of prisoners labeled "most dangerous" arrived at Alcatraz, a newly-fortified island penitentiary in San Francisco Bay.
Once an uninhabited sanctuary of seabirds, the island of Alcatraz was first named Isla de los Alcatraces or “Island of the Pelicans” when it was discovered by a Spanish Lieutenant in 1775. In 1846, John Fremont, Military Governor of California, purchased the Spanish-fortified Alcatraz from Francis Temple for $5000. After the acquisition of California from Mexico at the closing of the Mexican-American War, the U.S government delegated the island for military purposes. However, instead of being awarded with compensation for his initiative in securing the island, Fremont did not receive anything as the government rendered the sale invalid.
Since then, Alcatraz had been turned into a lighthouse, a U.S. Army detachment headquarters, and a military prison. But perhaps it’s best known for being a high-security federal penitentiary designed to contain the most hardened and “dangerous” prisoners in the country.
On this day, 77 years ago the first batch of “most dangerous” federal prisoners arrives at the island, then newly fortified especially for those who seem to make a hobby out of escape attempts. Alcatraz nevertheless did not intimidate around three dozen who attempted, but none was ever known to have successfully break out of the island prison.
“The Rock,” as the island prison is often called, has since then been the setting of many stories both grim and interesting. Among them are the tales of “haunted” cells and the most notorious criminals housed in Alcatraz, such as gangsters George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Alphonse “Al” Capone.
Under the orders of Atty. General Robert F. Kennedy, Alcatraz was closed in 1963 due to expensive maintenance cost. In almost 3 decades of its operation, the island prison housed over 1,500 convicts. In 1972, it was opened to the public and became part of then newly established Golden Gate National Recreation area.
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