Alcatraz. The very word sends a shiver up the spine. Men who were sent here felt they'd landed on a devil's island, a stony hilltop surrounded by a cold, treacherous sea.
Although only one and a half miles from San Francisco, the tantalizing city might as well have been a million miles away because no one ever escaped from The Rock. Over a 29-year period, from 1934-1963, 36 prisoners tried and only three were never found. (The story of those three became a movie, Escape from Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood.) As a ranger explained to David and me, if the cold water didn't kill you, the current would make it impossible for you to reach land. Floyd Hamilton successfully escaped and eluded guards by hiding in a cave. Still, since he could not figure out how to get off the island, he finally gave up and broke back into prison. Guards found him huddled on the floor near the same window that, just 24 hours ago, had provided his escape.
|A typical cell|
|Inmate decorated cell with his art.|
It is advisable to buy your tickets in advance since Alcatraz is an extraordinarily popular attraction and tickets often sell out several days in advance. Also, getting your tickets on-line means you can avoid the very long lines.
You must arrive at Pier 33 a half hour before your tour. Be sure to take a jacket (It is often colder on the wind-swept island than it is in the city.) and water with you.