Monday, October 02, 2006

The Spot Across the Bay

I know there have been a ton of movies and TV shows set on Alcatraz.

I saw The Birdman of Alcatraz when I was a tiny lad and Escape from Alcatraz when it was in theaters when I was a little less callow. And of course I saw The Rock as well as and Point Blank with Lee Marvin.

But I knew the movies based on true stories were not particularly accurate, and I'd never developed more than a passing interest in Alcatraz history until I took the cellblock tour.

Strolling history
Strolling the prison's Michigan Avenue and Broadway quickly transported me back in time, and I was quickly fascinated and imagining the men housed and the guards.

The occasional photo exhibits and the faces evoked a feeling of the era, the tension and the desperation.

The Battle of Alcatraz
I had only peripheral knowledge of the Alcatraz siege, but the tale of Bernard Coy and his accomplicies, Joe Cretzer, Marvin Hubbard and Sam Shockley, told in the cage that once housed the library really nabbed my attention.

I was excited when I returned home to discover emusic featured an audio dramatization of Kentucky bred Coy's 1946 escape attempt from Actors Scene Unseen.

It turns the facts into an interesting and compact program in two parts that captures some of the frustration that must have fueled the convicts' actions. Coy, who worked in the library and took reading materials to prisoners who'd earned the priviledge, plotted the escape which involved getting guns from the gun gallery with a makeshift bar spreader and obtaining a key to the recreation yard.

They got the guns but not the key and the battle that ensued resulted in guards being shot and required the U.S. Marines.

I'm sorry now I missed Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story when it aired on NBC back in the day. How can that have been 1980? I can still remember the on-air promos, God as my witness.

I've asked my local library to track down Clark Howard's out-of-print Six Against the Rock, a novel about the Coy escape that was also adapted for TV. I've read his short stories forever in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and never been disappointed.


Parks Service Official Alcatraz Site

Bernard Coy's Last Words

Escapes from Alcatraz

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1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I recently heard some true prison horror stories from a cop who was guarding the prisoners in New Orleans Central Lockup when Katrina hit and flooded everything. Made me glad I was neither cop nor prisoner at the time.

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