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Back in the Day: Alcatraz shuts its prison doors

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Back in the Day: Alcatraz shuts its prison doors


March 21, 1963 The last remaining prisoners move out of the infamous Alcatraz jail on an island in the San Francisco Bay. Known as “The Rock”, Alcatraz started as a lighthouse but by the mid 20th century had gained notoriety as one of the world’s most secure prisons, from which no detainee ever escaped. In its 29 years of existence as a Federal jail (it had previously been a civil war fort and a military prison) 36 men made 14 separate escape attempts. 23 were caught and six were shot dead, while five inmates are officially listed as “missing, presumed drowned” in the treacherous waters around the island. Among its most famous inmates were Al Capone and Robert Stroud, known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz”. Convicted of murder, Stroud spent a total of 54 years behind bars, including a time in Leavenworth jail in Kansas, where he reared birds. He was, in fact, not allowed to continue this hobby at Alcatraz, where draconian rules were in place including an almost permanent mandatory silence.

In 1969 the island was occupied by American Sioux Indians who claimed it as their territory; they were evicted in 1971. It then opened its doors to the public as a national landmark and museum.

Also on March 21: Henry V becomes King of England (1413); Shah Reza Pahlavi of Persia requests that his country be called Iran (1935); US President Jimmy Carter announces a boycott of the Moscow Olympics (1980).

Born on March 21: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685), Brian Clough (1935), Timothy Dalton (1946), Gary Oldman (1958), Ayrton Senna (1960), Lothar Matthaus (1961), Ronaldinho (1980).

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