IT HAS INSPIRED movies, books and nightmares but it has been half a century since Alcatraz federal prison held an inmate.
On 21 March 1963, a line of shackled prisoners shuffled off the Rock in the bay off San Francisco – they were the last to have lived on one of the most notorious island prisons in the world. In one of the final pictures taken on an occupied Alcatraz, two press photographers poke their cameras out through the first-floor landing to capture the scene:
Just a year earlier, Burt Lancaster had played Robert Stroud in the movie, Bird Man of Alcatraz. Ironically enough, despite the title, much of the action in the 1962 film was set in Leavenworth penitentiary, Kansas – Stroud was not allowed to keep his birds when he was moved to the hostile maximum-security environment of Alcatraz.
Stroud was moved from Alcatraz in 1959 to a medical centre for prisoners in Missouri as his health was failing. Alcatraz, in another twist of irony, actually gets its name from birds: explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala called it La Isla de los Alcatraces (The Island of the Pelicans) when he charted the Bay in 1775.
This photograph shows prison guard Jim Lowrie, standing in the deserted dining hall at the Rock at the end of moving day in 1963:
Alcatraz was once a military garrison, a lighthouse site and later a prison during the American Civil War and in the Spanish-American War. In its 30 years as a federal prison for dangerous criminals, Alcatraz held three-cell tiers, such as this one at the main block, pictured on 15 March 1956:
Guarding measures were strict. This was senior officer Melvin Kidney, seen through the two-inch laminated bulletproof glass that enclosed his post in 1956. He supervised communications to the Rock and had custody of arms, ammunition, tear gas and other weapons (AP Photo/Ernest K Bennett):
Even the outside recreation yard was a scene of maximum security with high sea walls, guard posts and razor wire. And should you make it over the top…. where would you swim to?
The isolation of the rocky outcrop is visible in this 1945 shot from Jack Rice of Associated Press:
However, this image taken in 1956, is a reminder of the men who were incarcerated, guilty of the most heinous of crimes but capable of artwork that recalled nature, religion and a life outside the Rock:
All images by AP Photos/Press Association Images, unless otherwise stated.
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