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May 2013: From the Editor

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From the Editor

Jennifer Morrell

While visiting San Francisco last fall, I had the privilege of touring Alcatraz Island. The brochure I read during a short ferry ride to the island in no way prepared me for what was ahead. I’d heard the stories, seen the movies, and read a little, here and there, about this beautiful and ominous place. Walking through the depressed cell blocks changed what I thought I knew about Alcatraz.

The mere dampness and darkness that immediately wrapped around me in the old jail made it difficult to imagine living there, fulltime, as a prisoner. Having a great interest in the paranormal, I wondered if I’d “feel” anything strange. What I felt was not any type of ghostly presence but, rather, the stiff divide between freedom and imprisonment. How could a building meant to put a lock and key to bank robbers, murders, and the like be positioned on such a stunning island, offering a view of San Francisco that is unmatched? It seemed counterintuitive, but it was real.

Alcatraz began as a U.S. Army fortress, so its creation always was intended for function. The structure was later used as a federal prison for 30 years. Apparently, 30 years was enough, when it was closed in 1963. The isolation felt on the island is palpable. The echoes down the corridors of the masonry and concrete fortress seemed to hold me in place. The storied escape attempts and, maybe, successes (we’ll never know) are captivating.

Suffice it to say that the visit was more than a history lesson on Alcatraz’s many uses (not forgetting that it was home to the Aboriginal Peoples for 19 months). It was a lesson in humanity.

During the tour, many mentions were made of ongoing and future renovations to the premises. I am thrilled that the National Landmark will continue to mystify visitors for decades to come. You can read more about one such renovation on p. 36 of this issue.

If you have the opportunity, I suggest you visit Alcatraz Island. My visit was an eye opener to the past that will forever be with me.

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