This past week marks the 55th anniversary of the closing of the legendary Alcatraz Prison. Despite many of its infamous inmates, “The Rock” has a reputation of its own, built by years of stories, myths and movies.
On March 21, 1963, the last of the prisoners were escorted out of the federal prison and off the island. Even though it operated for 29 years and was considered the most effective federal prison, the federal government believed it was too expensive to operate, and it was closed by the John Kennedy administration.
Touring “The Rock” is a great way to step back in history and reflect on life during that period. There are numerous times daily to catch a ferry in San Francisco to head to the island and back. Indoor and outdoor seating is available on the ferry, so the weather is not an issue.
Once on the island, the tours are self guided, with individual audio presentations. There is no rush, so guests can move at their own pace. Touring Alcatraz makes the stories come to life and leaves a lasting impression.
To honor this 55th anniversary, Alcatraz teamed up with the Hilton’s Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco. There is an ongoing Alcatraz exhibit at the hotel through June 28. Parc 55 is also hosting a series of speakers who share stories tied to “The Rock.” These speakers include a former a prisoner, a prison guard, a historian, and a former resident (warden’s daughter).
Each month, a different speaker is featured, followed by questions and answers, drinks and appetizers. There is no charge to attend the speaking engagements and view the exhibits. Reservations are not required for the remaining dates: April 26 and May 24. A day trip to the island followed by one of these speaking engagements makes for an ideal Alcatraz package. It brings the experience to life.
On March 21, former Alcatraz guard Jim Albright and his wife, Cathy, who resided on the island, shared their experiences with those gathered at Parc 55 Hotel. Jim shared his experiences working as a guard on Alcatraz, including the joys and concerns of his occupation and family on the island. He recalled escorting the last 27 inmates off the island. The actual experience was captured on film. The photo of Jim Albright leaving the prison with the inmates is one of the most well recognized of the Alcatraz photos. It was even used on the cover of a book.
A day on “The Rock” will be long remembered by history buffs, sightseeing enthusiasts and even curious children.
(Jaret Bosarge is a seventh-grader at Kenilworth Junior High School.)