The National Park Service on Thursday will mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of Alcatraz prison on March 21, 1963. The following is a timeline of Alcatraz history, with information provided by the park service.
1853 -- U.S. military begins construction of a fort on Alcatraz Island to defend San Francisco Bay. It was part of the North's western defensive strategy during the Civil War.
1859 -- 11 soldiers arrive on the island for confinement. During the Civil War era Alcatraz was used to imprison soldiers accused of desertion and other crimes as well as citizens accused of treason. On one occasion the crew of a Confederate ship was incarcerated there.
1907 -- Alcatraz is decommissioned by army as a fortification, but it remains a military prison. By 1908 the army had begun a major rebuilding campaign, erecting a massive concrete cellhouse.
1934 -- After being transferred from the War Department to the Department of Justice, Alcatraz reopens as a federal penitentiary designed to hold high-profile riminals, including the gangsters who proliferated during the Great Depression. The prison was meant to isolate these men from contact with the outside world. The focus was strictly punitive; there was no rehabilitative mission. Some famous inmates included Al Capone, "Doc" Barker, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz."
1946 -- A failed escape attempt leads to the Battle of Alcatraz. A small group of inmates take several guards hostage. Three inmates and two guards die during the standoff, which ends with a bombardment of the main cell block by the military. Two other inmates were later executed for their role in the battle.
1962 -- Inmate Frank Miller leads the most famous of 14 escape attempts at Alcatraz. He and brothers John and Clarence Anglin dig away the concrete around the ventilation grates in their cells, allowing them into a utility corridor between rows of cells. With dummy heads made of papier-mâché in their beds to fool the guards during night rounds, they climb up pipes to the top of the cell block and onto the roof. They slip down to the ground, scale a barbed-wire fence and make their way to the shore, where they inflate a makeshift raft. The men are presumed to have drowned, though that is not known for certain. The escape inspired the 1979 Clint Eastwood film, "Escape from Alcatraz."
1963 -- Alcatraz prison, decaying and too expensive to maintain, is shut down by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
1972 -- The property comes under the control of the National Park Service and becomes part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Today -- Alcatraz receives nearly 1.5 million visitors a year, more than many national parks, including Kings Canyon.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.