Sometimes, it has to be accepted that just maybe, something is impossible. Still, when a challenge seems impossible, there is always someone who comes along and proves that it can be done. Alcatraz island, and the prison that is located there were known to be impossible to escape from. Over the years that Alcatraz was open, there were 14 escape attempts. Myths and mysteries surrounded Alcatraz, and it’s seemingly inescapable water fortress for years. One of the many myths about Alcatraz is that it was impossible to survive a swim from the island to the mainland because of sharks. In fact, there are no “man-eating” sharks in San Francisco Bay, only small bottom-feeding sharks. The real obstacles the prisoners faced were the cold temperatures…which averaged 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the strong currents in the water, and the distance to shore, which was at least 1¼ miles. Those things combined were known to have bested most people who attempted to make it from Alcatraz to San Francisco.
The prisoners tried every possible escape plan they could think of…from simply climbing over a fence to the most elaborate attempt which was made famous by the movie “Escape From Alcatraz,” when on June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin cut through the walls, and made false walls to conceal their work, then placing “dummy heads” in their beds, so they would have all night to make their escape. Using raincoats turned into floatation devises, they made their escape. A cell house search turned up the drills, heads, wall segments, and other tools, while the water search found two life vests…one in the bay, the other outside the Golden Gate, oars, as well as letters and photographs belonging to the Anglins that had been carefully wrapped to be watertight. No sign of the men was found. Several weeks later a man’s body dressed in blue clothing similar to the prison uniform was found a short distance up the coast from San Francisco, but the body was too badly deteriorated to be identified. Speculation continues to this day as to whether or not the other two made it to safety.
The official statement says they drown, and while it is likely that they did, it has been proven that it was indeed possible to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. Prior to the Federal institution opening in 1934, a teenage girl swam to the island to prove it was possible. Fitness guru Jack LaLanne swam to the island pulling a rowboat, and several years ago two 10 year old children also made the swim. The official stand on that is that if a “person is well trained and conditioned, it is possible to survive the cold waters and fast currents. However, for prisoners, who had no control over their diet, no weightlifting or physical training (other than situps and pushups), and no knowledge of high and low tides, the odds for success were slim.” As to the escape attempts in which no body was ever found, we will never really know if they somehow managed to beat the odds and went on to live a quiet life under an assumed name or if they were swept away to be basically buried at sea. Either way, it is a very interesting subject to speculate on. I personally think that at least one of the three men made it.
Anytime a nation’s leader is killed, it’s a disaster, no matter how they died, but it is not so common for the disaster to still be felt when their child is killed, although the nation naturally feels a degree of collective sadness. In a monarchy, however, things are different. The child of the current king stands to be the next leader. These days, having a girl be the next in line for the throne is not a problem, in most nations, but that was not the case in England in 1120. At the time, the king of England was King Henry I. The Norman dynasty had not been in power very long, and the King Henry I was very eager to have the line continue on. His problem was solved with the birth of his only legitimate son, William the Aethling, who was called by the Saxon princely title to stress that his parents had united both Saxon and Norman Royal Houses. William was a warrior prince who, even at the age of seventeen, fought alongside his father to reassert their rights in their Norman lands on the Continent. As was common with kings, especially in that era, and maybe not so unusual in this era, the king had multiple concubines, and so several illegitimate children too. He did have a legitimate daughter named Matilda, but the throne belonged to his son. His illegitimate children were Richard, and oddly, a second Matilda. All seemed right in his world.
King Henry I was king from August 2, 1100, until his death on December 1, 1135, and expected that his son, Prince William would take his place as king upon his death. Then disaster struck on the November 25, 1120. This was a disaster that would have a dramatic effect, not only on the families of those involved, but on the very fabric of English Government. After a successful battle in 1119, which brought the defeat of King Louis IV of France, and the humiliation at the Battle of Brémule, the King and his entourage were headed home to celebrate. The king was offered a fine ship, the White Ship to travel home in, but he declined because he had already made other arrangements. He suggested that his son and some of the other men could talk the journey on the White Ship.
As the heir to the throne, Prince William attracted the cream of society to surround him. His entourage was to include some three hundred fellow passengers…140 knights and 18 noblewomen, his half-brother, Richard, his half-sister, Matilda the Countess of Perche; his cousins, Stephen and Matilda of Blois, the nephew of the German Emperor Henry V, the young Earl of Chester and most of the heirs to the great estates of England and Normandy. The passengers were all in a mood to celebrate, and asked the Prince for drinks. The prince had brought wine aboard the ship by the barrel-load to help with the festivities. Before long the both passengers and crew became highly intoxicated. Some even left the shop when things started getting abusive.
The people who remained were drunk, and decided that it would be a great idea to try to catch the ship the king was on. The king’s ship had already sailed out into the English Channel. The people kept pushing the captain to accept the challenge. The captain was sure that his ship could catch the king’s ship, so they set out that evening, and immediately struck a rock in the channel as they left. The ship began to sink, and Prince William was safely in a boat, but he heard his half-sister, Matilda screaming for help. So he left the boat to rescue her. The boat he was in was hit by a group of desparate passengers, and swamped. Prince William was lost and drown. The nation was devastated, and when King Henry I tried to get them to accept his legitimate daughter, Matilda, but they didn’t want to and when the king died, Matilda and her husband found themselves fighting for the throne in a war known as The Anarchy.