Meadow Vista Boy Scouts spend night on The Rock

By: Kathryn Holt Special to the Auburn Journal
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Winning the National State Park lottery to spend the night at Alcatraz Island was just the beginning of the adventure for local Scouts from Meadow Vista. Over the weekend, 33 Scouts, leaders and parents embarked on the opportunity of a lifetime as they caravanned to Vallejo, took a ferry to San Francisco and then boarded a one-way boat to Alcatraz. Each year for the past 25 years, 18 groups of 35 people are allowed to spend the night on Alcatraz Island. Year-to-date, there are only 16,000 individuals in the world who have had the experience to witness firsthand history behind the scenes of one of the nation’s most infamous penitentiaries. “I liked the audio tour best,” said Matthew Stonestreet, a 10-year-old Cub Scout. “The sound effects were awesome.” Matthew added that he enjoyed learning about the island’s history. When asked about sleeping in a cell, the Webolo II vividly remembered his story. “It was dark, you could hear the sounds from San Francisco. I almost slept in the Bird Man’s cell, where you can still see bullet holes from the Battle of Alcatraz. There were 30 bullet holes. All have been patched, except for one. Everything was my favorite and I would go again.” National Park Service Ranger John Cantwell greeted the group Friday afternoon. The San Francisco native began volunteering for the National Park Service at age 14 and in 1976 ran the book store on Alcatraz. Recently celebrating 20 years of service, Cantwell has been a permanent member of the Alcatraz overnight program since 1992. Drawing upon history books and direct personal accounts from former inmates, guards and children of officers who lived on the island, the ranger provided dynamic, articulate commentary on Alcatraz’s legend. Upon the landing on the Rock, the group was given a historical background, watched a screen presentation of commentaries featuring people who had experienced life on the island. From there, the daytime trek around the island began. Later in the evening, the group gathered for a barbecue. The nighttime adventures were only just the beginning — the group had no clue they would be hiking Alcatraz until midnight. Seeing areas closed-off to the general public was fascinating, as they toured the gunrooms, isolation dungeons for solitary confinement, secret tunnels and passageways. “I had been to Alcatraz before,” said Matthew Steffan, 15, a Boy Scout. “My favorite part was seeing the closed-off areas, behind the scenes.” He said later in the night, however, he began to feel the sense of history of where he was sleeping. “Spending the night was really creepy at first, just the idea,” Steffan said. “The thought of sleeping in a con cell, where it was cold was unnerving.” Kyle Brock, 15, said the history of the island was “very interesting.” “The Civil War, lighthouse, fort, prison and Indian occupancy really makes this a national monument,” Brock said. “I have a fascination with the prison battles, Al Capone and the escape attempts. There is definitely a feeling of confinement – not scary but very eerie.” The eeriness of sleeping in vacated prison cells got the best of some of the Scouts. At the beginning of the night all had their own cells but by the next morning most had “moved” into cells, sharing the overnight experience. After a mere five hours of sleep, each had a story to tell. “My overall impression is that it was fun stuff,” said Ron Edwards, a 15-year-old currently working on his Eagle Scout award. “My personal favorite part was the hospital area. They used a hydrotherapy treatment of filling a bathtub with ice, wrapping the convict very tight in a sheet and submerging him into the tub, waiting for hypothermia to set in and causing the convict to pass out. Learning so much in such a short period of time was incredible.” The troop’s assistant Scoutmaster, Ron Edwards, was instrumental in making the trip happen. He made repeated phone calls and tried for many years to gain the troop a spot on the island’s exclusive guest list. For more information on spending the night at Alcatraz by submitting your group’s name in the lottery drawing contact: special permit use group, San Francisco Golden Gate National Park Services at (415) 561-4300.