Alcatraz: You’ll Want to Leave This Place
With the success of the Fox TV hit “Alcatraz,” I kept thinking of the tour I took to the real thing a few years back. The show has the authenticity: the set is eerily similar. The cell blocks and the small cramped cells, the prisoners wearing the denim shirts and pants and heavy blue jean jackets, the guards wearing those familiar dark uniforms with the old style cop hats.
On that chilly summer afternoon in San Francisco, I went for the headset and tape recorder “walking tour.” But once I hung out on the island for a while, I wanted to get out of there. Real bad. There’s a bad vibe there, believe me.
Sure, it’s interesting. I was stunned to learn of the massacre, the shoot-out and the escape attempt in the library back in the 1950s.I saw the cell for the Birdman of Alcatraz, made famous by Burt Lancaster in the film of the same name back in the 60s. I went into the kitchen—a small simple place. In one cell, a dummy prisoner with a wig lies in bed as the tape describes the escape attempt that was the basis for the Clint Eastwood movie, “Escape from Alcatraz.”
At the end of a hallway is a window that perfectly frames the San Francisco skyline a short distance away. You can hear people on party boats having a good time. What torture for the prisoners who lived there. Freedom – so close, yet so far away.
The tape ended. I walked around outside (another tribute to the show’s set: they’ve even got the steps outdoors perfectly matched to the real thing). The warden’s house is nothing but walls now. The landing dock is graffiti-covered with slogans from the American Indian takeover of the island back in the 1970s. The water laps up against the rocks, icey cold.