This morning was our earliest start of the tour – we headed to Sacred Heart School in Pacific Heights at 7am. Got a little lost in the marble mansion but found a lovely student called Tom who escorted us to the library which is housed in another magnificent mansion next door. I hadn’t realised that Sacred Heart has both boys and girls but they are in different buildings and classes. Tevis Jones, the Librarian greeted us so warmly as did the Dean of Junior School, Kellie Irish. It was great to meet them both in person after lots of emails back and forth over the last few months.
I spoke to the Year 3 students first and then went upstairs to meet the Year 2 girls. They asked great questions again – ‘are any of the characters based on real people?’ and ‘are you any of the characters?’ and were generally fabulous and so attentive.
After the school visit we headed down town to have a quick look in Macy’s – it was a huge sale day and the store is open until 11.00pm tonight! I think there are just too many things to look at. I need a personal shopper as I feel completely overwhelmed.
This afternoon we had tickets to Alcatraz which we had fortunately pre-purchased at home. The tours frequently sell out days ahead and when we arrived at the dock the next available tour was Sunday. The weather was stunning – clear skies, a chilly breeze and not too choppy in the bay. Alcatraz is daunting – rising high above the water there are buildings that are instantly recognisable from the various television shows, movies and documentaries I’d seen over the years. We watched a video outlining the rock’s history from a military installation back in the civil war years, to a military prison then a federal penitentiary before being turned over to the National Parks. There are a lot of myths surrounding Alcatraz – there were escapes and in one case there were prisoners who were never accounted for. There was a murderous riot and the most famous prisoner was Al Capone. But by and large Alcatraz was a calm and consistent place, where prisoners were well fed, sheltered, clothed and had access to medical treatment. It was harsh and cold and some prisoners spent years in D block which was essentially two levels of solitary confinement – one section with open cells and the other with completely blacked out and isolated cells. They weren’t allowed to spend more than 19 days straight in the dark – I think one day would do my head in!
The other thing I hadn’t realised was that at any given time there were as many as 80 children living on the island. Guards and their families resided in a range of accommodation around the base of the rock and the first-hand accounts from children were very positive. They had no interaction with the prisoners and loved taking the ferry to and from school each day. The parade ground was a huge playground. One former child resident recounted that at Christmas the children would go carolling around the island – one of his happiest memories. They would stop below the cell block and sing, then listen as the prisoners sang back and wished them a happy Christmas. He said that what was his happiest dayof the year must have been their saddest.
I suppose what struck me the most was the deprivation – but then reading about the prisoners and what they had done to earn their trip to Alcatraz, they were often the worst of the worst – predators, murderers, gangsters and violent thugs. It’s certainly an interesting place and I’m really glad that we managed to get there.
I wasn’t quite so enamoured of Fisherman’s Wharf – it was a lot like Main Beach at the Gold Coast and one of the newer wharf areas reminded me of Dreamworld – it was all a bit tacky and touristy.
We rode a cable car back to the hotel – that was fun!
Tomorrow we head to Petaluma – yes back in the car. Wish me luck with the navigating J