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Alcatraz Island sits 1.5 miles off the shores of San Francisco, and was used as a prison as far back as 1861, when it housed criminals from the Civil War. It became a federal prison in August of 1934 and was in continuous use until 1963.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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In November 1969, the United Indians of All Tribes occupied the island and stayed there for 19 months as part of a nation-wide movement in support of American Indian rights.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Today the National Park Service operates the island, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and serves as a sanctuary for seabirds such as cormorants and pigeon guillemots, and for water birds such as snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Ferries to the island run every half-hour starting at 9:30 a.m. (an early bird ferry departs at 9:10).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The best time to visit is on the night tour, which departs at 4:20 in the evening and affords one of the more detailed guided tours of the facility. And you can watch the sun set over the city.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The best time to visit is on the night tour, which departs at 4:20 in the evening and affords one of the more detailed guided tours of the facility. And you can watch the sun set over the city.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Ferries to Alcatraz depart San Fran from Pier 33 near the city’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It's best to book ahead, especially if you want to go on the night tour.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Once on the island, you can participate in several guided tours, explore the island on your own, or take an audio tour of the prison grounds.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Our advice: Don’t miss the audio tour. It includes stories from actual prisoners from The Rock, along with ambient sounds that really bring the prison to life.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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In addition to housing some of the worst criminals in the country—most sent there because they caused violence in other prisons—Alcatraz also housed the families of the prison staff. Kids would take a boat, daily, to attend school on the mainland.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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This cell belonged to Robert Franklin Stroud. Known as the Bird Man (for raising birds in Leavenworth before transferring to Alcatraz), he was imprisoned for shooting a barman who raped and killed a prostitute and dancer. He spent 42 of his 54 years in solitary confinement.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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No one ever “officially” escaped The Rock. Thirty-six prisoners made 14 escape attempts. Of those, 23 were caught, six were shot, two drowned, two were executed after escaping, and three were never found. The tour includes outlines of the most famous escape attempts.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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In what’s often called the “Battle of Alcatraz,” three prisoners attempted to tunnel out of Cell Block B. The official investigation ruled that they drowned in the cold, rough waters of San Francisco Bay, but the bodies were never recovered. The attempt served as the basis for the film Escape from Alcatraz.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
 
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