California Museums


Alcatraz Island Museum

Alcatraz Island San Francisco - Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area  


Alcatraz Island in San Francisco is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is operated by National Park Service. This deactivated prison where notorious criminals such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Birdman of Alcatraz (Robert Stroud), all served prison sentences "on the rock," is an extremely popular tourist attraction. Only accessible by booking your ride on one of the Alcatraz tour boats, you get to explore this once forbidden fortress where legend had it that no prisoner could escape and live to talk about it (though many tried.)

Among the displays, photographs and storyboards documenting life on Alcatraz, visitors can see the utensils (no knives) used for dining on three meals per day. Inmates ate cafeteria style and could eat all they wanted as long as they ate it all up. Dieticians planned the meals to assure a nutritional diet was served.

One display shows a menu and program for  Christmas 1954. The nicely printed Christmas Eve program included songs: O Come All Ye Faithful, I'll Be Home for Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night Holy Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and O Holy Night. Christmas packages were distributed courtesy of the Director, Warden and Prison Industries.

Another glass case display shows a "Tommy" gun, brass billy club and regular billy club used by staff at the prison. Inmates were given a handbook of Institution Rules and Regulations you can see, and failure to follow the rules resulted in loss of hard-earned privileges and confinement.

Shanks, or prison crafted knives that were confiscated fill another display case. Some of the knives had hefty blades and seemed they could do serious damage. Also on display: a riot helmet, bar spreader and grappling hook used in an escape attempt.

Among the buildings you can wander and see are a Military Workshop and Schoolhouse, Apartments and Penitentiary, a Theater, Gift Shop and Bookstore, Water Tower and a Morgue.

The prison had a recreation yard offering rare freedom of movement, association and choice. Some inmates chose to play baseball or run laps. Others walked to the top of the bleachers to see what they were missing. A display case with photo of the recreation yard included a baseball mitt, a baseball and leather glove.

Some say spirits still reside in this cold, damp decaying structure, and many people go there to experience first-hand encounters.  You can step into a prison cell and snap photos of yourself in lock-up, listen to self-guided tour narratives, and see the rows after rows of prison cells empty now.

A trip to Alcatraz is highly recommended as you really can't get a sense of this island's isolation, its lifestyle and sparse decor unless you step inside.  For those who can't go, there are dozens of books and videos and even movies about life on Alcatraz.

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