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Alcatraz: Hidden Fortress Found Beneath Famed Federal Prison

Image: Alcatraz: Hidden Fortress Found Beneath Famed Federal Prison

By Clyde Hughes   |   Thursday, 27 Feb 2014 02:47 PM

Underground, beneath the famed Alcatraz federal prison, researchers have discovered something that did escape them — remains of an old military fortress long thought destroyed, including a subterranean tunnel system.

The structure can be traced back to the 19th century, researchers told BBC News.

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Mark Everett, geology and geophysics professor at Texas A&M University, joined a team from Chico State University in Chico, Calif., and the National Park Service for the research. The park service currently maintains Alcatraz.

It was the park service that initiated the research on the hidden tunnels and embankments that date back to before the Civil War, Everett told the Houston Chronicle.

"They pointed out these areas of interest and asked us to come and scan them, to do the geophysical work," Everett said, adding that researchers used ground-penetrating radar to find tunnels and embankments.

"(The tunnels) would have been used for the fortifications. There would have been movement of man and ammunition; it would have been bomb proof and covered with earth so it would have been protected," Everett continued. "We get signatures that indicate there is not only a tunnel, but magazine buildings too."

San Francisco and Alcatraz were important as part of the initial California gold rush.

"I think most people know that in 1848 gold was discovered in California, and before that time San Francisco was really a very small town," Jason Hagen, a historical architect for the National Parks Service, told BBC News. "But once gold was discovered here, San Francisco became a very important part for the country and for the West Coast, and so protecting it really was the point of building the fortress of Alcatraz."

Hagen said Alcatraz became even more important during the Civil War as it was transformed into a military installation, with barracks and gun batteries.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was reserved for America's worst criminals, such as George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Mickey Cohen, and Al Capone. The facility is now a tourist attraction, with more than a million visitors annually.

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