San Francisco #1

JB Here ~

I had my first real vacation in something like six years. We went to San Francisco for a long weekend, did museums and ate great food, and did two touristy things I’d wanted to do for a good, long time. This post – #1 – covers our trip to Alcatraz. The next – #2 – deals with a certain black bird…

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This is the east side of the cell block. Many things amazed me. First of all, the complex is far larger than I had imagined. Secondly, the cell block is a small part of it. The water tower was graffitied by the Native Americans who occupied the island for 19 months starting in 1969. Alcatraz is now a national park and, each time the tower needs to be repainted, relatives of those who did the original painting are invited to redo the “graffiti”. I think that’s uncommonly cool.

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Walking up to the cell block, you pass this very small building. The interior is, honestly, about the size of a small bedroom.

It is the prison’s morgue…

The interior is rudimentary and sparse and may date more to the island’s time as a fort than a prison. Still, it is dark and creepy and tiny.

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This is  your average cell. Cot would’ve been on the right. Under the sink is the air vent through which the three men dug to escape. Those cells are preserved but did I take a picture of one of them? I took a picture of this cell for a reason. Can you figure it out?

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Here’s a view looking out of a solitary confinement cell. The size is the same as others but the guards would first shut the bars and then close and lock the outer door – which is about six inches thick and without windows. Solitary and shut off from world.

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This is the exercise yard. The dirt at the end is the “baseball diamond. At the right are the large cement steps where cons could sit and stare at freedom. At left, at the base of the wall, are horse shoe pits. All the white stuff? – sea gull poop. In the distance is the Marin County headland, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge to the left over the greenery.

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This is one wall of the prison’s library. Hard to know what it looked like when full of books and shelves. All that are present are against the walls.

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Turn around in the library and you see the gate out and, across the aisle, one side of the three-tiered D block.

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I don’t recall the designation of this cell block – A or B? – but it’s where the serious cons were kept – those too dangerous to be with the other dangerous criminals. Tourists can’t get into this section but I imagine the cells size is about the same as in the other blocks. If I heard right, this is the block were the “Birdman of Alcatraz”, Robert Stroud, was housed.

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Here’s a view of the guard’s station. I like the ring of big keeps hanging up by the window.

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I liked this spin file of location and phone number by state. Reminded me of the shop’s Future File.

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From the southwest corner of The Rock, you see downtown San Francisco. The free audio tour – which I would highly recommend if you get there – mentions how hard it was on the cons to see the city so near and how they could hear the city at night. In turn, I wondered what it was like for the people in the city to constantly look away from their Paradise, across the water, and see a grim reminder of the fall from Eden, federal prison well stocked with killers, maniacs, and hardcases.

The rubble at the island’s edge shows that much of the complex is gone – light keeper’s house, warden’s house, to name a couple. Lost to the destructive and damp salt air. There are some photos around the island that let you see how it once looked. And, of course, there’s no shortage of photos on-line.

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There are many things I’d like to do in my time left on the planet. Being in prison isn’t on the list…

There was one point where a park ranger demonstrated the mechanism to open and shut the cell doors on one level on one side. I was transfixed by the sight, sure, but more so by the echoing, metallic ringing of the heavy doors sliding open and then closed. Besides being nearly deafening, it was also just so final. I was so transfixed that I never thought of taking a video of it and had to kick myself later. Ends up it wouldn’t have mattered. We can’t upload video to this blog, so I don’t get to post the little “movie” I took of The Rock as our ferry pulled away. Ah well.

As luck would have it, the night after we got home Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz was on TV. Filmed there in the prison, it is a very good way to see how it all looks.

Finally –

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A shot that has nothing to do with Alcatraz. This was the next night, with this section of the Bay Bridge being the only part of the structure visible through the fog. Tells you just how thick that fog can be.

Next up: The Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour