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Alcatraz Penitentiary

Alcatraz Penitentiary

Above: Front of Specimen Card

"It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked."
~ Gangster Al Capone

Inhospitable and inescapable, the legendary Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island played host to some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century. Originally conceived as a concentration program to manage the most difficult prisoners in the federal penal system, the isolated and harsh environment of "The Rock" became a symbol of cold, impersonal justice, earning the prison its infamous nickname.

Today, Alcatraz Island is a National Park visited by over 1 million people each year. The island is also home to a rapidly growing population of nesting colonial seabirds, including cormorants, snowy egrets, and black-crowned night herons. The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from concrete salvaged by the National Park Service during the restoration of the site.

Please Note: Sizes and shapes of this specimen vary widely.

The specimen is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar with a removable top which arrives in a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4x3x1.  A small information card is included, which also serves as the certificate of authenticity.

About Alcatraz Island and Alcatraz Penitentiary

Above: Alcatraz Island Modern Day

When Spanish naval officer Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aranza passed through the Golden Gate in August of 1775, he became the first European to sail into the San Francisco Bay. Seemingly free of the crippling fogs so common down the coast in Monterey, Ayala felt the bay would make an ideal harbor.

Aranza spent a little more than a month in the bay, charting the features and making contact with local Native American tribes. He gave names to many features, including a sandstone island so densely populated with brown pelicans he named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, a name which stuck when the United States took possession of the island in 1846. The island remained barren for many decades until gold was struck in the Sierra Nevada.

Fearing that foreign interests might try to take control of the suddenly valuable region, President Millard Fillmore signed an order in 1850 placing Alcatraz Island, as well as several others in the bay, under the control of the U.S. Army and directing the construction of defensive fortifications.

While the gun batteries of Alcatraz fortress were never called upon to defend the city, the remote nature of Alcatraz made it an ideal location for holding military prisoners. Confederate soldiers and sympathizers were housed here during and after the Civil War, as were so-called "rebellious" Native Americans. During the Spanish-American War, the incarcerated population of Alcatraz soared into the hundreds, leading to more construction.

After a fire destroyed the wooden citadel, construction began on what would become the world's largest reinforced concrete building. Completed in 1912, this 600 cell structure would house conscientious objectors during World War I and eventually become the foundation for the U.S. Federal Penitentiary known as "The Rock".

In all, some 1,545 men were incarcerated at Alcatraz, including famous Chicago gangster Al Capone, James "Whitey" Bulger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud, also known as "The Birdman of Alcatraz". Over the course of 29 years, only 36 inmates attempted to escape Alcatraz. Officially there were no successful escapes, however, in the early hours of June 12th, 1962, Frank Morris and brothers Charles and John Anglin slipped into the San Francisco Bay in a makeshift raft crafted from stolen raincoats.

The trio worked for six months to widen the ventilation ducts inside their cells and then escaped through a utility corridor behind their cellblock. Fragments of their personal belongings as well the remains of their raft were discovered but the prisoners bodies were never recovered.

Ironically, the men were aided in part by the very construction which set Alcatraz apart when it was completed in 1912. Back then, Alcatraz was a military prison and the new cellblock was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. After decades of exposure to the salty, cold winds of the San Francisco Bay, airborne chlorides penetrated the concrete and degraded the reinforcing steel. This was further exacerbated by the atmospheric carbon dioxide which had carbonated the concrete and caused further corrosion.

Less than a year after the 1962 escape, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered the prison closed.

After the Federal Penitentiary closed, Alcatraz was abandoned and declared surplus property by the U.S. Government. This led Native American rights activists to make several claims for the island based on the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. A symbolic occupation of Alcatraz occurred during 1964. In 1969, after a second occupation, a group of 89 people set out for Alcatraz with the intention of laying claim to the island. After landing a small party, a proclamation was issued by The Indians of All Nations, claiming the island by right of discovery, and signing off with the famous cry of, "We Hold the Rock!"

For over a year, activists held the island with the population peaking at over 400 people. This successful occupation was linked to many Native Rights protests during the 1970s and remains the inspiration for the annual Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony (or Unthanksgiving Day) held each year on Alcatraz Island with the full support of the National Parks Service.

This rallying point also speaks to the deeper history of the island. According to native histories, the island was actually a place of exile in ancient times and served as a place of refuge when the first Spanish came to the area.

Above: Back of Specimen Card

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