Alcatraz prison is arguably the most famous prison in the United States.
Before it became known as Alcatraz, Native Americans living in the area believed the island to be cursed. Alcatraz wasn’t documented until 1775 when Juan Manuel de Ayala charted the San Francisco bay and named it, along with two other islands, as “Island of the Pelicans” (Alcatraz being Spanish for Pelican).
The island was considered a strategic military location even before it was part of the State of California, but it wasn’t used as a prison until 1861 when during the American Civil War it was modified to contain Confederate prisoners. After the war, the fortifications were considered obsolete and remodeling plans were eventually dropped to convert Alcatraz into a military prison instead.
That installation would eventually be absorbed into the Federal Bureau of Prisons in October 1933 and was a federal penitentiary until salt water damage and the high price of maintaining the prisoners caused Robert F. Kennedy to order Alcatraz to be closed in March 1963 after 29 years of operation.
While Alcatraz was in operation there were 14 escape attempts by 36 prisoners, most were caught, or killed. Five inmates were never recovered and believed to be drowned.
In November of 1969 the island was again occupied, this time by Native American activists attempting to draw attention to their cause. The activists held the island for 19 months until President Nixon relented to changes they proposed. Occupation of Alcatraz ended June 11th, 1971.
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