Historical wealth found beneath Alcatraz Prison
Subterranean tunnel system found underneath former prison site
At one time, Alcatraz was the United States most impenetrable and forbidding prison. The island destination today is now little more than a destination for visitors touring San Francisco, California. However, scientists say there's much more to "the Rock" than imprisonment. New discoveries made by researchers suggest a rich, hidden history lying beneath its prison walls.
Scientists are uncovering a hidden history lying beneath the prison of Alcatraz.
The area was previously an area where inmates could spend an hour a week away from the confines of the main block. The yard has long covered up a vital bit of Californian history. Researchers have found the remains of a military fortress, long thought to have been destroyed.
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This image, taken in 1868, shows one of the many cannons that formed part of the garrison.
Still enclosed by 20-foot walls, Everett points to a spot in the yard where he has found evidence of a subterranean tunnel system.
"(The tunnels) would have been used for the fortifications. There would have been movement of man and ammunition; it would have been bomb proof and covered with earth so it would have been protected," he explains.
The fortress saw little action, and in 1903 it was turned into a military prison.
"We get signatures that indicate there is not only a tunnel, but magazine buildings too." Traced back to the 19th Century, these structures were built at a pivotal moment in U.S. history.
"I think most people know that in 1848 gold was discovered in California, and before that time San Francisco was really a very small town," Jason Hagen, the historical architect for the National Park Service says.
Many traces of the fortress vanished, but some are now being rediscovered using ground-penetrating radar.
"But once gold was discovered here, 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."
Alcatraz Island's strategic value became even more important with the outbreak of the American civil war in 1861. Transformed into a military installation, Alcatraz was kitted out complete with barracks and gun batteries.
Scientists have found evidence of parts of the fortress lying under the recreation yard.
However, the garrison remained quiet and no shots were fired offensively. California was left largely untouched during the War Between the States.
Today, the parade ground shows no visible signs of the fortress buildings.
Alcatraz was turned into an army prison at the turn of the 20th Century, paving the way for the infamous federal penitentiary. America's most notorious prison, from the 1930s to the 1960s the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was reserved for the "worst of the worst." Notorious gangsters such as George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Mickey Cohen and Al Capone all spent time locked up in the tiny cells.
The formerly "escape-proof" jail now hosts more than a million tourists visit each year.
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