Inside the hospital of Alcatraz

I can’t tell you why, but I’ve always had a strange fascination for old, abandoned hospitals. Much like old cemeteries (like the St. Louis #3 in New Orleans), I find something so perfectly, beautifully, macabre about them. I realise this is going to make me sound like even more of a lunatic than I already am, and I honestly can’t explain why; there’s just something about the decaying abandoned furniture and equipment, the cliched but naturally haunting lighting, imagining the stories of the patients who went through there. For these reasons, I loved the movie Sucker Punch, and am an enormous fan of the work of Seph Lawless, who captures a lot of these degenerate settings so beautifully.

I’d love nothing more than to spend days exploring some of these abandoned buildings with my camera, but they’re not easy to get into. So, one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever been afforded was to see inside the hospital of Alcatraz (which was closed back in 1934) when I visited a few months ago. It was opened to the public for a few months after Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was invited to turn the rooms of the hospital into an art gallery, displaying his art examining human rights and free expression. You can read a little more about that exhibition here, but here are some of the photos I was able to take when I visited…

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Alcatraz part 2, San Francisco

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Back at Alcatraz today for another set of photos, this time taken within the prison and grounds themselves. And some random facts about the island which I found out from the absolutely brilliant audio tour while I was there and from …

– The food at Alcatraz was considered to be the best in the entire prison system.

– There were only 28 deaths on the island – 5 suicides, 8 murders and 15 deaths of natural causes/illnesses.

– Alcatraz held 302 prisoners at it’s peak capacity, and an average of 260.

– Even after a prisoner had died, their lifeless corpses were still chained and shackled for removal from the island.

– The families of the guards that lived on the island had surprisingly good facilities on hand, like a gelateria, bowling alley and convenience store.

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Through my eyes: Canteen menu at Alcatraz

On the anniversary of the closure of Alcatraz, allow me to present to you the final menu of the penitentiary known for serving the best food in the system.

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Alcatraz part 1, San Francisco

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Alcatraz Island. The Rock. The last stop. I’ve always had a strange, macabre fascination for places like this. Places of confessions and suffering, of crime and secrecy, of war and death. It was only natural that Alcatraz captured my imagination and was one of the biggest reasons behind our visit to San Francisco a few weeks ago.

I thought today would be an appropriate day to share the first of three posts about the island; on this day 52 years ago, The Rock saw it’s last prisoners depart and finally closed down, due to extremely high operational costs associated with running the rapidly deteriorating facilities on the island.

The first group of photos I wanted to share were of the heart achingly beautiful view from the island across the bay. The view that was enjoyed by the families of the guards staffing the island. The view that tortured the men imprisoned on the island. The view that drove 36 attempted escapes (of which 23 were re-captured, 6 were shot dead, 2 drowned and 5 were missing, never to be seen again). That view in the winter morning sun, which I won’t ever likely forget…

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USAdventure days 8, 9 & 10: San Francisco

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Stayed at: Beresford Arms Hotel

Ate at:
– Ike’s Place
– Tartine Bakery
– Tropisueño Mexican
– Yummy Yummy dim sum

Got up to:
– Alcatraz – WOW
– Union Square
– Lombard Street
– Chinatown
– 49ers game & pre-game tailgate party
– Ghiradelli Square
– Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf
– The Painted Ladies
– The Mission District