The Great Escape from Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island - San Francisco, California

Start listening to the Great Escape from Alcatraz at minute 11:50.


It’s time for a very interesting story. Today we’re going to talk about Alcatraz and the Great Escape.

Off the coast of San Francisco, there are a few islands. One of them is smack dab in the middle of the San Francisco Bay and it’s called Alcatraz. The name comes from La Isla de los Alcatraces. It was the name a Spanish lieutenant named Juan Manuel de Ayala – that he gave it back in 1776 when he sailed by. It translates to something along the lines of the island of the pelicans in archaic Spanish. And that’s all it was back then; a twenty-two acre piece of land covered in birds. Today, Alcatraz is one of the most visited tourist locations in the United States, and for good reason.

From 1934-1963, a prison there was home to the most notorious criminals in U.S. history. One thousand five hundred and forty-five feared criminals walked through its eerie concrete corridors, including some famous names you may know, like Robert Stroud, a.k.a. the Birdman of Alcatraz, Machine Gun Kelly, and, of course, the infamous mobster Al Capone, or Scarface.

There are a number of bizarre and shocking things that have happened throughout history there and the history with the United States inhabiting it started back in the 1850s.

If you remember back to episode number 9, California became part of the U.S. along with (part of) Texas and New Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, and then shortly afterwards, gold was discovered in California. Many of the residents of the state at that time got extremely rich. I mean, many people like farmers, salesmen, waiters, just your average Joe, went from rags to riches overnight.

In fact, the prospect of finding gold to build a better life was so attractive for so many people that hundreds and thousands flocked to Northern California in and around 1849. We called these people, these newcomers, 49ers, like the San Francisco football team, and a lot of them invested in the city and settled there.


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