​Alcatraz Scientists Locate Hidden Fortress

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March 1, 2014

Alcatraz Researchers at Texas A&M University uncovered a hidden fortress beneath America’s most notorious prison. The scientists found a military fortress that was previously thought to have been destroyed.

The structures of the hidden fortress can be traced back to 19th century around the time when gold was discovered in California. An Alcatraz architect for the Nation Park Service told the BBC, “San Francisco became a very important port for the country and for the west coast, and so protecting it really was the point of building the fortress of Alcatraz.”

Not even 20 years later, the American Civil War broke out and Alcatraz was turned into a military installation. This image shows the old structures in red. However, the fortress saw little to no action so it was turned into a prison and destroyed around 1915. Architects and others involved in the find are still studying the area with radar technology to find out if excavations are necessary.

“From 1850 to 1907 was the era of Fortress Alcatraz,” explains Texas A&M professor of geology and geophysics Mark Everett. Much of the remaining fortress is inaccessible under prison buildings, but archeologists hope to start excavations soon on what they believe is an important find under the prison’s parade ground.

“It is called a caponier, and it is a large structure that juts out into the bay and provides defensive cover. We have seen it in the old photographs but it has completely disappeared from present view,” says Everett.

He told the Houston Chronicle last month that the National Park Service had asked his team to search for Civil War-era structures at Alcatraz, using equipment that scans under the earth in a way “similar to the way people look for oil deposits.”

Escape From Alcatraz

On the night of June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, Allen West, and Anglin brothers Alfred Clarence and John William escaped from Alcatraz. They fabricated dummy heads from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. They escaped from their cells by crawling through holes in the cell walls which they had dug with spoons over the course of a year.

However, West could not make it out of his cell and was left behind.

From the service corridor they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof. The trio then climbed down from the rooftop, scaled the prison’s fence and assembled a raft from the prison’s standard-issue raincoats and contact cement. They pumped up the raft on the northeastern coast of the island. At around 10 p.m. they climbed aboard, shoved off, and started paddling.

Alcatraz security guards brushed off the loud sound of the shaft smashing through the roof as nothing serious. Since nothing more was heard, the issue was left unpursued.

The next morning it was discovered that the trio had escaped Alcatraz. At first it was thought that the escapees had been decapitated. Only upon further scrutiny did the guards realize that the heads were part of a clever escape plot.