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September 16, 2014

Historical Photos of the Last Day of Alcatraz - March 21, 1963

On the morning of March 21, 1963, Alacatraz, the most secure prison and symbol of American justice across the nation closed down for good. The last prisoner off the island, Frank Weatherman, a gun smuggler and jailbreaker, offered an epitaph to the island's 29 years as the toughest federal penitentiary in the country. "Alcatraz was never no good for nobody," he said.

Life Magazine assigned photographer Leigh Wiener to cover closing day at Alcatraz on March 21, 1963. Most of what he shot went unpublished until his son Devik rediscovered the images 45 years later. In 2012, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy published Wiener's photos in a book, Alcatraz: The Last Day.

Warden Blackwell Meets the Press - On March 21, 1963 the last twenty-seven convicts are escorted off Alcatraz Island. News crews were invited to Alcatraz to document the event. Photographer Leigh Wiener was on the island to document the closing for Life Magazine.

West Road Guard Tower - Boats were required to stay at least 200 yards from shore. From the West Road Guard Tower, armed officers would monitor the island’s perimeter. Notice the chipped concrete of the edges of the walkway.

Guard’s Housing - Penitentiary guards and their families lived on Alcatraz Island. With the closing of the prison, staff and families prepared to leave their homes. On the balconies, notice the barrels used to pack the families’ belongings.

Convicts on Broadway - Handcuffed, shackled and chained, convicts are marched out of United States Penitentiary Alcatraz.

Convicts on Broadway - Handcuffed, shackled and chained, convicts are marched out of United States Penitentiary Alcatraz.

Convicts on Broadway - Handcuffed, shackled and chained, convicts are marched out of United States Penitentiary Alcatraz.

Recreation Yard - Weights and other recreation equipment left behind.

Guard - A correctional officer enjoys a peaceful moment on Broadway.

Guard on Broadway - With the prisoners gone from the prison, an officer takes a last quiet walk before leaving the island.

News Crews Capture the Prisoners Every Step

West Road Guard Tower & Golden Gate Bridge - After years of exposure to the elements, the concrete structures were in need of repair to maintain safety and security.

West Guard Tower - The West Guard Tower stands empty for the first time in twenty-nine years.

Guard in D-Block Gun Gallery - A correctional officer poses with his weapon in the D-Block gun gallery.

Shackled and Chained

Island Dock - Convicts board the prison launch Warden Blackwell to San Francisco.

Officer Gordon Gronzo - Correctional Officer Gordon Gronzo takes his last walk down Dock Tower steps once the launch Warden Blackwell has departed.

Officer Gordon Gronzo - Officer Gordon Gronzo holding .30-06 rifle and wearing .38 police special revolver.

Convict’s Bus - The convicts were driven by bus to the dock. In the background are the Doctor’s House (left) and the Warden’s House.

Convict’s Bus - The bus transporting convicts drives to the dock. On the left is the Warden’s House; on the right is the Lighthouse Keepers’ Quarters.

Administration Building - Correctional Officer Jim Albright escorts the last twenty-seven convicts out of the Administration Building.

Keys Were a Way of Life

Kids on C-D Street - Children of the island staff, who also lived on Alcatraz, were allowed inside the prison for the first time.

Control Center Officer - From behind two-inch bulletproof glass, guards controlled inmates’ movements throughout the prison.

Guard - An officer plays with kids on C-D Street in the empty prison.

Last Boat Ride - An anything but ordinary work day ends, as the officers return to San Francisco.

(via Alcatraz: The Last Day Photography)




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