1. No one has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz (though many have tried!)
Alcatraz was supposed to be the ‘inescapable’ prison; a reinforced cement building on a barren rock encircled by shark infested icy waters. Despite this, there were 14 escape attempts of varying degrees of success over the years involving 36 men. A few were more successful than others – in 1962 John Paul Scott managed what many had drowned attempting before by reaching the mainland but was soon captured suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia. Two prisoners disappeared in their attempt and are listed as ‘missing, presumed drowned’, though conspiracies continue to circulate that they did in fact make it out.
2. It’s named after a pelican (or 100)
The word ‘Alcatraz’ comes from the name given to the island by Spanish settlers, who named it ‘Isla de los Alcatraces’ (Isle of the pelicans). Over the years, the name has been anglicised to ‘Alcatraz’, and is also commonly known simply as ‘The Rock’.
3. Prisoners were kept at Alcatraz in the aftermath of the San Fran earthquake
When a huge earthquake hit San Francisco in 1906, much of the city was destroyed, including the city’s state prisons. As a result, hundreds of prisoners were transferred temporarily to Alcatraz while the city began rebuilding its state buildings.
4. Women and children lived on Alcatraz with the prisoners
Although the majority of the prisoners had no contact with women for more than 20 years due to a lack of women prisoners and prison guards, women were everywhere on Alcatraz. Up to 300 people made up the civilian population of the island, including the prison guards and their families, and there were also dedicated shops and entertainment for the free inhabitants!
5. The sharks in the waters around the island are not ‘man-eating’
Alcatraz has a fearsome reputation for being an impenetrable fortress, and a lot of this comes from the idea that the waters around the island are infested with great white sharks. However, though there are sharks in the water around Alcatraz, these are typically sand sharks which are not ‘man-eating’! It’s still not a good idea to go swimming in the sea there though, where strong currents and frigid icy water also present an extreme danger to escapees.
6. Soil and plants had to be imported from the mainland
They weren’t making it up when Alcatraz was branded a barren, isolated little island. It’s so unfriendly and unwelcoming that the prison guards had to import soil and plant life on to the island to try and brighten it up a bit for the resident families!
7. Alcatraz housed the famous Al Capone
One of the most famous inmates of Alcatraz was criminal mastermind and gangster Al Capone. Rumoured to have been dabbling in serious crime from the tender age of 14, Capone was finally brought to justice after nearly 20 years in the business and was sentenced to 11 years in prison, 5 of which were spent in Alcatraz.
Alcatraz is a hugely popular destination and tickets are limited so often sell out months in advance. It's important to pre-book if you don't want to miss out. Check out our great value ticket options for visiting this incredible piece of history.
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