Alcatraz marks 50 years since prison closed

Admit it: There’s nothing in the San Francisco Bay Area quite as captivating and mysterious as Alcatraz Island.

From the graffiti splattered all over its exterior to the stories buried inside its cold walls, it holds an allure that few tourist attractions can grasp. Beginning in 1934, the federal prison has held more than 1,500 inmates, including famous gangsters like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

So it’s no wonder that today, on the 50 year anniversary of the closure of the prison, the Rock is still selling out tour tickets and attracting crowds bigger than most national parks can boast.

On a regular basis, Alcatraz has an annual visit rate of about 1.5 million, putting it atop multiple lists of tourist destinations. Tickets for boats rides and audio tours sell out nearly every day and often as far as a week in advance.

Those who visit can tip their caps and thank the Golden Gate National Parks Service, who has worked for the past five decades to keep it in tact for visiting history buffs and mystery seekers–and anyone who’s watched “Escape From Alcatraz” too many times–to enjoy.

But those visiting Alcatraz the week of the 50 anniversary of the closing are in for an extra treat. In addition to never-before-seen photographs courtesy of the National Parks Conservatory, the tours also feature special presentations by former guards and island residents, complete with book signings by authors who have written exclusively on the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

While the hours to view the new crop of photographs are limited, the exhibit is slated to stay open through June of 2013, with the possibility of being extended.