The 39 Clues

Cahill

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The encyclopedic guide to useless facts on the internet.
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Alcatraz

Alcatraz is an island in California’s San Francisco Bay that has been used as a lighthouse, military fort, and a maximum-security prison. It is now a national park and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco. Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish explorer, was the first to give the island a name. During a 1775 expedition to map San Francisco Bay, he named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, which means “Island of the Lillies.”


In 1848, the United States won California in the Mexican-American War. The following year, California was flooded with miners hoping to strike it rich by discovering gold. As a result, the US military built a fortress with more than 100 cannons on the island to protect the gold discovered in the surrounding area. Did they really need 100 cannons for a small fort? They needed them to protect the gold. Maybe there was more to the fort than met the eye . . . . That’s just pure fantasy.

The weapons on Alcatraz soon became outdated. So in 1867, the first jail was built to house military prisoners and Hopi Indian captives. But no one really knows what went on in the misty island’s fortress.

In 1907, Alcatraz Island was renamed the Western US Military Prison. Two years later, a massive concrete cell block was built. The federal government began to use Alcatraz as a prison for some of the most infamous criminals in American history. The cold waters surrounding the island—as well as rumors of the man-eating sharks swimming in them—made the island an ideal place to lock away criminals. Or to conduct secret business away from the prying eyes of the public.

Escape from Alcatraz was supposed to be impossible. Or was it meant to keep people OUT?? The walls of each cell were made from solid concrete, and iron bars covered the windows. Even if a prisoner dug a tunnel through the wall of his cell, it would lead either into another prisoner’s cell or into a hall patrolled by guards. If he somehow escaped the building, he still had to swim a mile in freezing water before reaching land.

There were more than 14 escape attempts from Alcatraz—none of which were officially “successful.” Yet to this day, five of those escapees remain “missing and presumed drowned.” Who knows whether they ever made it to land? Or what secrets they tried to bring back to the mainland?

Then in 1963, the government mysteriously closed the prison. By 1963, Alcatraz had become too expensive to operate. The government decided to close the prison and use more cost-effective prisons on the mainland. Now, more than 1 million tourists visit the island and tour the abandoned prison each year. With so many visitors, how could anything “secret” be going on there? Maybe some of the “tourists” are actually spies or secret agents. That’s an absurd idea! But no one can explain the large number of military-looking personnel who often travel to the island….