Raise your hand if you’ve taken the tour of Alcatraz. I suspect most of you have, but I’ve lived in the South Bay Area all my life and I only just saw it for the first time last weekend. Yup, 50 some years in this place and I’ve only just got around to seeing it. Isn’t that how it works – millions of people from far away places have gone to see it but I live here and haven’t taken the time to see one of the most famous – infamous – prisons in the world.
When Heather and I were thinking about places to go for a day trip over the Memorial Day weekend it came out that I’d never been to Alcatraz. At first I was thinking of Maritime Museum near Fisherman’s Wharf to see the old ships and maybe buy a sea shanty CD in the gift shop but then the scandal of me never having seen Alcatraz came up. So I figured that I’d get out of it by not being able to get tickets on short notice.
There were two tickets open for the noon boat to Alcatraz on Saturday and it turns out you can get shanties on iTunes these days so it was off to the rock.
Being a Saturday I decided to brave big city driving and took the hour long drive into the city and parked at Pier 39. After a relaxed a walk around the touristy Pier 39 we headed down for the Alcatraz boat. You can never tell what the weather will be like out on the bay so we’ve come with light rain jackets and kept an eye on the sky so of course the sun came out and there was a gentle breeze as we boarded the boat.
Boat rides are always a concern for me as I am known to get sea sick just watching boats on TV. The bay was calm and the trip was only about 15 minutes so I had no trouble at all.
Once on the island we saw the orientation film and headed up the hill for the audio tour of the cell block. I highly recommend both. The afternoon was warm and sunny so we also took a walk around the gardens. At one time the gardens were tended by the inmates but these days there are volunteers who care for the flowers. The gardens are worth it and it also gives you a chance to see all the birds that now call Alcatraz home.
I am a bit of a history buff and really got into reading all the information about the history of the island. Starting in 1850 the US army used it first as a fort and then a military prison. In 1934 it was turned into a federal prison and held prisoners until 1953. One thing that struck me was the information about the American Indian occupation of the island from 1969 to 1971.
I also remembered one of my father’s favorite sayings: “you know you’re getting old when they are talking about things as history that you remember as current events.
I am officially old.
I remember watching the news reports of the occupation and talking about it during social studies in school.
You see it is one of the reasons I haven’t seen the island before – you couldn’t go there when I was a child. As I get older I often find myself reading about an event and thinking where was I when that happened. Here is a place where my life and history touched ever so slightly and I found myself thinking of my own life history as I read the information signs.
When I was born Alcatraz was a federal prison.
When I was three the prison was closed (the same year JFK was killed and the year of my first memories. The first TV show I remember is “Mr. Ed” but I digress).
When I was in fourth grade the island was occupied by a group of American Indians.
In the sixth grade federal law enforcement officers removed the last occupiers.
I was in the eighth grade when it was opened to the public for the first time.
Then I was too young to care about history.
I hate to admit the number of times I’ve seen the island from the shore, the Golden Gate Bridge or even the handful of times I’ve been past it on a boat without thinking it might be good to actually visit the place.
What I will say is that I am glad I finally went and set foot on the rock. There is history there to learn and a great day out.
We ended our outing by going back to the Pier 39 and fought the crowds to get a strawberry crepe and a ham and pineapple one. Just as we finished our treat the weather turned and it started to rain. With the rain came the great exodus of tourists fleeing the bad weather and it took over 30 nerve wracking minutes to just to get to the freeway.
Note: all photo credit goes to Heather.