New Historic Photos Come to Light

  

  ‘How do you decide what to plant?’ is a common question that I get asked by visitors to the island. With choosing the right plant for the right place in a cultural landscape there are a few more considerations than your average backyard.

We aim to give ‘the look and the feel’ of what the gardens would have looked like during the days of the military era (1853-1933) and during the maximum security federal prison era (1934-1963). Detective work by Carola Ashford in the early days of the project built up a collection of historic photographs that we rely heavily upon. Using these photos, along with oral history interviews and historic letters, we were able to create gardens that echo the color schemes, textures and purpose of the original gardens.

Amazingly, historic photographs that we have never seen

Kathe standing in their garden. Photo by Al and Mildred Kaepple

before are still coming to light. Kathe Poteet had her early childhood years on the island in the 1950s while her father worked as the business administrator.

Kathe recently passed along a collection of photographs her parents had taken of their home on the Rock.

The photos reveal the Parade Ground, an area that has not been restored yet, to have once been a well-tended neighborhood with roses and hydrangeas at the foundations of the homes surrounded by manicured lawns. Many of the photos show Persian carpet, Drosanthemum floribundum, spilling over the seawall and the grove of Eucalyptus by the dock is still young.

The south end of the island in the 1950s. Photo by Al and Mildred Kaepple

The south end of the island today. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

Kathe is planning on attending the Alcatraz Alumni Weekend in August when past residents visit the island to share their experiences with visitors. It is through this once-a-year occasion that we have been able to compile an extensive collection of landscape photos.

I hope to meet with Kathe to find out more about the people in the photos and about her father, who obviously had a green thumb.

Al Kaepple in front of the family home. Photo by Al and Mildred Kaepple

Looking at the photos, the pride the residents took in tending their gardens is clear; it is easy to imagine calling Alcatraz home.

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