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Alcatraz Island, California
Alcatraz Island, California (Image by A_Matskevich from Pixabay )

Alcatraz Island, California

Appropriately known as 'The Rock', this craggy island in San Francisco Bay was indeed a hard place, becoming the USA's most notorious federal prison.

Surrounded by strong currents, Alcatraz was considered to be escape proof. Of 34 prisoners involved in 14 attempts during the prison's 29 year life, seven were shot and killed, two drowned, five were unaccounted for and the rest were recaptured. Two made it off the island only to be returned. The most famous attempt immortalized in the movie Escape from Alcatraz saw three men vanish. They were listed 'presumed drowned', but there has been persistent speculation that they got away.

In fact, the federal prison was a short lived if notorious part of the island's history, operating from 1934 to 1963. Alcatraz Island was first used to site a lighthouse in the 1850s, but the US Army quickly moved in to fortify the place and protect the seaward approach to San Francisco. In 1868 Alcatraz become a military prison, a role that eventually saw the completion of a huge new cell block in 1912, which was used by the military until handed over to the US Government on cost grounds.

Now a hugely popular visitor attraction dotted with buildings dating back to the Civil War era and supporting a variety of wildlife, the uninhabited island has appeared in many movies. Apart from those featuring prison life, several have used the abandoned prison as a location, including Lee Marvin's Point Blank, Clint Eastwood's The Enforcer and Sean Connery's The Rock. Strangely, the hundreds of tourists who visit Alcatraz every day were nowhere to be seen in any of these films.