Back in February of 2016 I visited San Francisco. On my list of 'must visits' was of course, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Once a maximum high-security prison situated on Alcatraz island just 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, now stands a public museum. And boy do I love a good museum!
Since falling into disrepair after the prison closed in 1963, a park ranger convinced a Texas based prison hardware firm to fix the cell doors at Alcatraz, bringing back to life the otherwise bleak concrete structure. This restoration was particularly significant because it meant that now “the sound of the slammer” could be experienced once again by the island’s visitors. A chilling and unique experience to the prison and good news for me and my handy dictaphone! The ‘slammer’ was a term used to describe the sound of the cold, iron cell doors shutting closed, confining the inmates to their 9 x 5 feet cells and sealing their fate. Past inmate John Banner, who once served 4 years at Alcatraz describes the sound as, “a very distinctive noise”
Despite Alcatraz being so close to the city, prison life was particularly quiet on the island. If the wind was blowing in the right direction, festivities from the mainland might be heard around New Years Eve as normal life went on. Inmates described the sound of seagulls as being like torture as little was available to stimulate the senses. Against all odds, in 1977 Alcatraz made itself it's first Hollywood claim to fame.
When Hollywood Comes A'Calling
For those of you who have seen George Lucas’ Star Wars, you may remember the scene where (spoiler alert) Princess Leia’s home planet ‘Alderaan’ gets blown up and destroyed by the death star. Hollywood foley artists recorded the sound of the slammer at Alcatraz and reused it for the film to replicate the sound of the planet exploding. Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, and other media in post-production to enhance audio quality. Check it out...
Later in 1993 for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, the Sound Of The Slammer was used once again. Remember the self-driving vehicles that drove through the large wooden gates into the park? The sound of the gates unlatching and opening, are the cell doors at Alcatraz opening.