Alcatraz to hold its final alumni reunion on the island Sunday

Alcatraz and its iconic prison will see some familiar faces Sunday.

After that, it may never see them again.

The last ever Alcatraz Alumni Association reunion will converge on The Rock one last time and with it, a chapter of San Francisco’s living memory will close.

Prisoners weren’t the only denizens of San Francisco’s lonely island. Guards, their families and children shared Alcatraz, too.

Courtesy Alcatraz Alumni Association

Former residents and, maybe, a former inmate will share their experiences on tours, panel discussions and presentations throughout the day.

For John Brunner, who grew up on the island, it meant seeing a hidden side of America’s most infamous prison.

Brunner was 10 when his father took a job as an engineer on Alcatraz in 1950. A safer bet, his father thought, than the unheard of “amusement park” going up in Anaheim.

Courtesy Alcatraz Alumni Association

Brunner spent his days sailing The Rock’s parade ground with skates fixed to his shoes and borrowed sheets in his hands. He set up a private dark room for his box camera in some unused storage space and fished so much that he and some friends caught enough sea bass to feed the island’s entire population — prisoners included. And they did. There were leftovers the next day.

Children rode the ferry to school. If they didn’t make the last ferry from Fort Mason at 11:30 sharp, they’d have to sleep in their car, if they had one.

Although one night an officer’s daughter was out late on a date and missed the boat. It was promptly ordered back to pick her up, Brunner said.

Courtesy Alcatraz Alumni Association

But those days are over and memories like these are now getting harder to hear. Actual Alcatraz alumni are a scarce sight at the reunion in recent years. The national park, Brunner said, needs people who actually lived on the island to speak to guests, not their children.

“I don’t think there’s more than 25 people that could make it,” Brunner said. “Many people have moved out of state.”

Courtesy Alcatraz Alumni Association

Brunner, however, isn’t heartbroken over the final reunion.

“I don’t really have a problem with it,” he said. “I got bored with it.”

He grew tired of the same questions and comments. “No, I never saw Al Capone,” he would say.

Brunner left the island when it was closed in 1963. He was 23 years old. He went on to serve as an officer in the San Francisco Police Department and now lives in Fairfield.

Courtesy Alcatraz Alumni Association

Plans for future reunions are uncertain, but Brunner and others have played with the idea of going to Clear Lake in the future.

Photos and stories of Alcatraz and the families that called it home can be found on the Alcatraz Alumni Association’s website.

Regular tickets for Alcatraz are already sold out. A limited number of tickets, however, will be released to the public Friday at 10 a.m.

Ian Williams
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Ian Williams

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