“Break the rules and you go to prison. Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.”
This past Wednesday, a handful of Hornblower interns took the trip to Alcatraz. Each of us, having spent at least several years in the Bay Area, were shocked that we had somehow missed one of the city’s most prominent attractions.
Our trip commenced with a quick and smooth ride aboard one of Hornblower’s Hybrids, the greenest boats in the nation. As we sailed across the bay, we were treated to exceptional views of the city and the spinning wind turbine aboard the boat.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was in for. Sure, I knew that Alcatraz was a prison, but that is where my knowledge of the history made its sad, incomplete end. Luckily, thanks to the audio guide we were given (which features the accounts of actual former inmates and prison guards), I can safely say I walked away educated.
The history of Alcatraz is seductive; it evokes images of another time, of dark speakeasies and fringed dresses, of smoky cigars and a dangerous underworld. The hardened criminals that watched life pass by behind those bars are some of the most famous in American history, including gangster Al Capone and Robert Stroud, also known as ‘The Birdman.’
From my perspective, what must have been the worst part of being held at Alcatraz was its proximity to San Francisco. You can see the city moving freely, but you are removed from it. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be able to see life evolving so close and yet have no access to it. I imagine that helped make Alcatraz so effective, constantly dangling freedom just out of reach. I was also surprised to learn that Alcatraz was not just a prison; rather it began its life as a military base, then a prison, then a Native American occupation site, and finally a National Park.
Today Alcatraz lies at the intersection of the past and the present. Its infamous history continues to draw attention and interest while modern developments seek to improve the experience. All in all, a wonderful experience, and well worth a second trip!