Alcatraz Island Lighthouse Shines a Beam of Gold
The prison Lighthouse was inspired by the California Gold Rush of 1848! In five years, the bay was jammed packed and jelly tight with vessels loaded with fortune seekers hoping to land a good fortune! The Lighthouse of the Rock was the first working Lighthouse on the Pacific coast and beamed a Light through the Golden Gate passage for mariners entering the port of San Francisco.
To accommodate the safety of the sailing Gold Diggers, a Lighthouse was built and completed by July 1853 yet, the Light was First Lit almost a year later on June 1, 1854 exhibiting a Fixed White Light. There was confusion about which lighting system should be used – the old Argand lamps and parabolic reflectors or the new Fresnel lens. Eventually, the new Lighthouse Board approved the superior performance of a Third-order Fresnel lens.
The first Tower rose above the center a two-story Cape Cod style Keeper’s house. The 50-foot high Lighthouse was painted white with a black trim and was similar to the design of old Point Loma Lighthouse.
By the time the first Lighthouse was built, the first guns were mounted in the South Battery of Alcatraz Island in 1853 as part of the plans for the Alcatraz Citadel, a fortified military barrack completed in 1859 just north of the Lighthouse. Although the guns of Alcatraz never fired a shot to defend the city during the Civil War, 39 people were imprisoned in the Alcatraz Citadel for celebrating the news of President Lincoln’s assassination. This event marks the humble beginnings for the renown notoriety of the Rock!
In 1902, the Lighthouse was refitted with a revolving Fourth-order Fresnel lens exhibiting a Flashing White Light every 5-seconds. On April 18, 1906, a San Francisco earthquake cracked the Lighthouse and Light-keeper B.F. Leeds wrote in his Keeper’s Log, “is this the end of the world?”
In 1909, the Lighthouse and Citadel was demolished and replaced by the present prison cell house and a 84-foot high octagonal concrete Lighthouse. The new Lighthouse was First Lit on Dec 1st, 1909 exhibiting a Flashing White Light every 5-seconds illuminated by a Fourth-order Fresnel lens 214-feet above sea level visible to a range of 22 nautical miles.
The new Keeper’s house was next to the quarters of the prison doctor and the warden. At times, Lighthouse Keepers faced the dangerous task of crossing the prison compound to activate the two Fog signals at the other end of the Rock. The Lookout Tower guards would notify the Light-Keepers when they saw a fog bank rolling in and the Keepers passed through each gate on the hand signals of the guards.
The Rock was a military prison until 1933 when the prison became a federal penitentiary. In 1946, the Battle of Alcatraz was recorded by a Lighthouse Keeper
when Bernard Coy attempted his bloody escape. Marines dropped grenades into the cell block to quiet the explosive riot! Of the 6 escapees, three were killed during the “44 hours of hell” as one Light-keeper described the battle of May 2nd. Two men were later executed for killing two guards and the third survivor was given an additional life sentence.
Due to maintainence costs, the Rock was closed in 1963 and the Lighthouse was automated on November 22, 1963. From Nov 9th, 1969 to June 11, 1971, Native Americans occupied the island by claiming the Rock was part of the 1868 Sioux Treaty.
After a mysterious fire destroyed the Keeper’s and Warden’s houses on June 1, 1970, the Indian population began to dwindle due to the lack of water. A pre-dawn raid finally ended the voluntary Indian incarceration!
After surviving burning, prison breakouts, and riots, Alcatraz Lighthouse stands tall as an Active Aid to navigation managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. To close this Lighthouse Christmas story, we need to find the two Lighthouses inspired by Frankincense and Myrrh! Maybe, Linda has these Lights hidden in her blogging manger?
For a Map Location of the Lighthouse, please visit the Google Map of Alcatraz Island Lighthouse
Did you notice the connection of two events hidden in the post?
The first major event at the Citadel on the Rock was the incarceration of confederates in 1865 for celebrating the news of President Lincoln’s assassination. Later, Alcatraz Island Lighthouse was automated on the day JFK was assassinated. Perhaps, Ed the Editor can calculate the odds?