10 Facts About Alcatraz

Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images
Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images

For decades, it was known as the site of one of the most unforgiving federal prisons in the country. “Break the rules and you go to prison,” went one anonymous quote. “Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.” But San Francisco Bay’s Alcatraz Island has a history that goes far beyond its infamy as a criminal commune. Check out some facts about its origins, its history-making protest, and signing up for a tour.

1. IT BECAME A MILITARY OUTPOST IN THE 1850s.

Described by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, Alcatraz Island is the Americanized name of Isla de los Alcatraces (Island of the Pelicans). Following the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, California became property of the United States. In the 1850s, the island was earmarked by U.S. forces for a military citadel. Outfitted with more than 100 cannons, it monitored activity in San Francisco Bay to thwart foreign invaders looking to cash in on California's gold rush. (Later, it was used to discourage Confederates from trying to seize control of San Francisco in the Civil War.) That presence led to some federal prisoners being housed on site—a foreshadowing of the general-population prison it would one day become.

2. INMATES WERE FORCED TO BUILD THEIR OWN PRISON.

An aerial view of Alcatraz circa the 1930s
OFF/AFP/Getty Images

When the need for armed monitoring of the bay ended, the U.S. Army deconstructed the fortress, leaving only the basement foundation intact. From 1909 to 1911, the military prisoners were put to work building a new structure that would house disciplinary barracks for the West Coast. (That building is the one standing today.) The military transferred ownership of the island to the Department of Justice in 1933, which is when Alcatraz became synonymous with the worst of the worst, housing notorious criminals like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

3. LIFE THERE WASN’T SO BAD.

Known as the “Rock,” Alcatraz developed a reputation for segregating America’s incorrigibles from the rest of the population. Sometimes, rules dictated that prisoners couldn’t even speak to one another. But conditions inside the prison weren’t as harsh as movies and television would later portray. Inmates often got their own cell, and some even asked to be transferred there because the potential for violent trouble was low. The reason some of the more notorious criminals of the era were sent there was usually due to the facility’s strict routine. Prisoners had little leeway or privileges outside of the four basics: food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. One perk? Hot showers. Inmates got warm water to use for bathing, although it wasn’t for altruistic reasons. A theory has it that if prisoners got used to warm water, they’d freeze up if they ever made an escape attempt in the bay’s frigid conditions.

4. ODDS OF ESCAPE WERE SLIM.

Swimmers run across the water near Alcatraz Island
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Many know the story of Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin, who famously attempted to escape the prison island in 1962 using a raft made out of raincoats. No one knows whether the men made it, but the odds were stacked against them. Of the 36 men who fled from the site in the 29 years it was open (1934 to 1963), 23 were recaptured, six were killed by guards, and two drowned. The remaining five—including Morris and the Anglin brothers—made it to the water and disappeared.

5. INMATES LIKED PLAYING SOFTBALL.

Though Alcatraz would never be confused for a country club, inmates still had outlets to pursue physical activities. Softball was the most popular pastime, with prisoners using a diamond in the recreation area. Organized teams played using shorter innings; balls going over the barricades were outs, not home runs. But not every game went smoothly. The teams were integrated, and that occasionally to racial tensions. During one May 20, 1956 game, tempers flared and makeshift knives were pulled before guards could restore order.

6. GUARDS LIVED ON THE ISLAND WITH THEIR FAMILIES.

A camera peers through a chain-link fence inside Alcatraz
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Life at Alcatraz wasn’t isolated just for the prisoners. Guards and other prison employees lived on the island in separate housing that was once Civil War barracks. Their kids fished in the bay and passed time in social halls that had pool and bowling. Families often took weekend boat trips to nearby Marin to stock up on groceries and other essentials. While they were forbidden to make contact with inmates, a few made a spectator sport of watching new arrivals come in wearing shackles.

7. IT WAS CLOSED FOR BEING TOO EXPENSIVE.

Alcatraz didn’t get shuttered over human rights issues or because the prison was too hardcore even for society’s worst. It closed in 1963 for the same reason it was so distinctive: the location. Saltwater continued to erode structures, making the cost of maintaining the buildings excessive. On a day-to-day basis, Alcatraz cost $10.10 per person to maintain in 1950s dollars, three times as much as most other federal prisons. It also needed freshwater brought in by boat at the rate of a million gallons a week.

8. NATIVE AMERICANS OCCUPIED IT IN PROTEST.

A man stands on Alcatraz Island during a Native American occupation
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1969, a group of college students stormed the abandoned prison. Their cause: to draw attention to the United States government's policy of terminating tribal sovereignty and relocating Native American residents to cities. Richard Oakes, a student at San Francisco State College, led the occupation, which lasted a total of 19 months. Authorities moved in 1971 when the group—which was 400 strong at its height—had dwindled to just 15 people. During their protest, Richard Nixon reversed the policy in 1970, effectively ending government seizure of Indian lands.

9. YOU CAN TAKE A TOUR.

Alcatraz Island was converted into a park and made part of the U.S. national park system in 1972. It’s possibly the only such park that can lay claim to Al Capone once strolling its grounds. If you want a tour, you can make advance reservations and book a ferry (via the wonderfully-named Alcatraz Cruises). Once there, an audio tour will take you through the grounds, including the cells of luminaries like Capone. More than 1.5 million people visit annually.

10. IT’S LITERALLY GONE TO THE BIRDS.

Alcatraz sits in the background of two birds flocking nearby
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Without a permanent human infrastructure, Alcatraz Island has slowly been engulfed by nature’s squatters. One of the first sights visitors see is a surplus of Western gulls taking up residence on almost every surface. The park service even offers a tour of the avian life, which includes 5000 birds across nine different species. The population is fitting, since the prison’s most famous inmate is widely considered to the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” Robert Stroud. After being sentenced for murder, Stroud took up ornithology and was considered to be an expert by the time he arrived on the island in 1942.

The 25 Happiest Cities in America

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Even if you love your job, your home, and the people in your life, it's hard to be truly happy if you can't stand where you live. Your geographic location can have a significant bearing of many parts of your life, including your income potential, your health, and the activities you do outside of work. To see which city has the happiest citizens, WalletHub crunched some numbers.

The personal finance site looked at a number of different metrics, with categories including community and environment, income and employment, and emotional and physical well-being, to determine the happiest cities in the U.S. Pulling from published psychology research, WalletHub found that Plano, Texas is the happiest of the 182 cities that were analyzed. It's followed by Irvine, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Fremont, California; and Huntington Beach, California. Cities in sunny California show up frequently on the list, with 14 cities from the state making the top 50.

You can check out the top 25 below, along with an interactive map of all the cities. And if you're not interested in city life, here's a list of America's happiest states.

Source: WalletHub
  1. Plano, Texas

  1. Irvine, California

  1. Madison, Wisconsin

  1. Fremont, California

  1. Huntington Beach, California

  1. Fargo, North Dakota

  1. Grand Prairie, Texas

  1. San Jose, California

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona

  1. San Francisco, California

  1. Bismarck, North Dakota

  1. Overland Park, Kansas

  1. Santa Rosa, California

  1. Austin, Texas

  1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  1. Pearl City, Hawaii

  1. Glendale, California

  1. San Diego, California

  1. St. Paul, Minnesota

  1. Charleston, South Carolina

  1. Gilbert, Arizona

  1. Anaheim, California

  1. Raleigh, North Carolina

  1. Cape Coral, Florida

  1. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

10 Clever Moments of TV Foreshadowing You Might Have Missed

Gene Page, AMC
Gene Page, AMC

Spoiler alert! Sometimes TV shows shock their audiences with mind-blowing twists and surprises, but the writers are often clever enough to foreshadow these events with very subtle references. Here are 10 of them.

**Many spoilers ahead.**

1. The Walking Dead

During season five of The Walking Dead, Glenn (Steven Yeun) picks up a baseball bat a few times in the Alexandria Safe-Zone. He was also almost killed by one at Terminus at the beginning of the season. Two seasons later, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brutally kills Glenn with his barbed-wire baseball bat (a.k.a. Lucille) during the season seven premiere.

2. Breaking Bad

In Breaking Bad's second season finale, a Boeing 737 crashes over Albuquerque, New Mexico. While the event was hinted at throughout the season during the black-and-white teasers at the beginning of each episode, the titles of certain episodes predicted the crash altogether. The titles “Seven Thirty-Seven,” “Down,” “Over,” and “ABQ” spell out the phrase “737 Down Over ABQ,” which is the airport code for the Albuquerque International Sunport.

3. Game Of Thrones

In “The Mountain and the Viper,” a season 4 episode of Game of Thrones, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tells his stepson, Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli), “People die at their dinner tables. They die in their beds. They die squatting over their chamber pots. Everybody dies sooner or later. And don’t worry about your death. Worry about your life. Take charge of your life for as long as it lasts.”

Throughout that same season, viewers see King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) die at a dinner table during his wedding and watch Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) strangle his former lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli), in bed, before killing his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), while he’s sitting on a toilet.

4. Arrested Development

Throughout seasons 1 and 2 of Arrested Development, there are a number of references that foretell Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) losing his hand. In “Out on a Limb,” Buster is sitting on a bus stop bench with an ad for Army Officers, but the way he’s sitting hides most of the ad, so it reads “Arm Off” instead. Earlier in season 2, Buster says “Wow, I never thought I’d miss a hand so much,” when he sees his long lost hand-shaped chair in his housekeeper’s home.

5. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

In season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) comes out as gay and begins a relationship with Tara (Amber Benson). However, in the episode “Doppelgangland” in season 3, a vampire version of Willow appears after a spell is accidentally cast. After Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz) capture the vampire Willow, the real Willow takes a look at her vampire-self and comments, "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay!"

6. Futurama

In the very first episode of Futurama, "Space Pilot 3000," Fry (Billy West) is accidentally frozen and wakes up 1000 years later. Just before he falls into the cryotube, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, you can see a small shadowy figure under a desk in the Applied Cryogenics office. In the season four episode “The Why of Fry,” it was revealed that Nibbler (Frank Welker) was hiding in the shadows. He planned to freeze Fry in the past, so that he could save the universe in the future. According to co-creator Matt Groening, “What we tried to do is we tried to lay in a lot of little secrets in this episode that would pay off later.”

7. American Horror Story: Coven

American Horror Story: Coven follows a coven of witches in Salem, Massachusetts. When Fiona (Jessica Lange), the leader of the witches, is stricken with cancer, she believes a new witch who can wield the Seven Powers will come and take her place. Fiona then begins to kill every witch she believes will take her place until the new Supreme reveals herself.

During the opening credits of each episode in season 3, Sarah Paulson’s title card appears with the Mexican female deity Santa Muerte (Holy Death), the Lady of the Seven Wonders. And as it turned out, Paulson’s character, Cordelia, became the new Supreme witch at the end of the season.

8. Mad Men

At the end of Mad Men's fifth season, ad agency partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) committed suicide by hanging himself in his office. While it was a shock to the audience, the show's writers hinted at his death throughout the entire season.

In the season 5 premiere, Lane jokes "I'll be here for the rest of my life!" while he’s on the telephone in his office. Later, in episode five, Don Draper doodles a noose during a meeting, while Lane wears a scarf around his neck in a bar to support his soccer club. Early in episode 12, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) mentions that the agency’s life insurance policy still pays out, even in the event of a suicide.

9. How I Met Your Mother

In How I Met Your Mother's season 6 episode, “Bad News,” Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) are waiting for test results that will tell them whether or not they can have children. While we’re led to believe the title of the episode reflects their test results, it actually refers to the news that Marshall’s father, Marvin Eriksen Sr. (Bill Fagerbakke), had passed away after suffering a heart attack.

Keen-eyed viewers knew this news already because the writers of How I Met Your Mother foreshadowed the death two seasons earlier in the episode “The Fight.” At the beginning of the episode, Marshall said that lightsaber technology is real and will be on the market in about three to five years from now. By the end of the episode, a flash forward reveals what Thanksgiving looks like at the Eriksen family’s home in Minnesota; Marshall’s father is not shown or referenced during the holiday meal.

10. True Detective

During season 1 of True Detective, detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart are trying to solve a murder investigation, as they try to identify the mysterious “Yellow King.” The color yellow is used when the detectives are on the right track, but the detectives already met the killer in episode three, "The Locked Room."

When the pair went to the Light of the Way Academy, posted on the school’s sign was a very clever hidden message that read “Notice King,” which pointed to the school's groundskeeper as the killer.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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