Interesting Alcatraz Facts
History & Description
The Recreation Yard was dirt-packed until it was paved over in 1936. On weekends and holidays, prisoners were allowed a maximum of five hours a day in the yard. Some prisoners worked seven days a week in the kitchen, and they were allowed breaks in the yard on all days. In its last years as a prison, the time allowed in the Recreation Yard was increased, and other equipment was allowed - including shuffleboard, tetherball, and even weight-lifting equipment.
A privelege granted to well-behaved prisoners was the right to have a few hours on weekends and holidays in the Recreation Yard. There was a baseball diamond in the yard, and balls (softballs), gloves, and bats were provided. This was by far the most popular activity in the yard, although chess, checkers, and card games were also played. And it appears there was also a basketball court. There were amateur and league softball teams, with the league teams playing more competively. Baseball was very popular with the inmates, and in 1955, radiojacks were put in cells so that the men could hear the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Ocassionally, Major League stars like Stan Musial and Warren Spahn would visit, becoming the first true tourists to the island.
Alcatraz Escapes & Incidents
While physical activity was popular, many inmates used the yard mostly for socializing, pacing around the perimeter and discussing their past crimes. They also used this opportuity to plot escapes. The most violent escape plot (called The Battle of Alcatraz) was hatched in The Recreation Yard. A number of inmates attacked and overpowered several guards and locked them in cells. Their goal was to reach the Recreation Yard and disarm more guards so they could escape the island by reaching the boatdock. But the fierce battle was quelled before they reached their objective. 14 guards and one inmate were wounded. Two guards and three inmates died from gunshot wounds. Two inmates involved in the escape attempt were later excecuted. One of the prison's most famous inmates, Robert Stroud - known as the Birdman of Alcatraz - probably never spent time in the Recreation Yard. Even though he was portrayed in the television movie "Six Against the Rock" that dramatized the Battle of Alcatraz, Stroud spent all of his time at the prison in segregation or in the prison hospital. In 1956, there was nearly a race riot in the yard when a white ball player insulted a black player. The near-riot was quelled by guards, and wounds were superficial.
Visiting Alcatraz Recreation Yard
Just about everyone who visits Alcatraz will spend time in the Recreation Yard. It is a natural progression from the Cellblock to the yard, and guided tours often assemble tour members in the yard for a lecture on its colorful history. The only way to visit the island is by boat, offered by one cruise company contracted by the National Park Service.
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