Amusement Parks, Music, Pop Culture

Indiana Beach Music Scene (Part II).

Original publish date:  August 18, 2014 Reissue date: August 20, 2020

Last week, I shared the details of Janis Joplin’s visit to Indiana Beach in Monticello on August 14, 1968, 46 years ago. It still seems strange to me. The place most Hoosiers identify with the cartoon crow popping up out of a cornfield to squawk “There’s more than corn in Indiana” is the very same venue where Janis Joplin performed live for a crowd of 100. Not to mention, she strolled the midway before the show checking out the food and arcade games like any other 25-year-old. It got me to thinking, who else played the “Beach Ballroom” that I didn’t know about.
Since I never attended a single Indiana Beach show, I was fortunate to track down a couple fellows who did. Gary Brewer and Brad Long were gracious enough to share memories and files with me about the bands who played the park back in the day. Brad recalls, “I attended a few concerts at Indiana Beach years ago – Blue Cheer, Ohio Express, The Who, and Brownsville Station / Alice Cooper. I intended to continue my research and make a list of all the acts I could and all the dates they performed there, along with the opening acts from back then, who included The Chosen Few, REO Speedwagon, etc. IB was indeed a big music place in the sixties and I can remember that The Beach Boys, Byrds and Yardbirds were just a few who played there.”
Brad, a Logansport native, has an impressive list of bands with whom he’s performed and recorded with in his own right. He started playing in 1967 and his bands have included The Psychedelic Oranges, Celebrate, Tobias, The Lynx and Lincoln Supply Depot and has recorded albums on the Line Records label, whose artists included Jimi Hendrix and the Yardbirds. So, Brad has the necessary street cred to talk about Rock ‘n Roll at Indiana Beach in the 1970s.

Gary Brewer has an equally impressive musical pedigree and also recalls attending Indiana Beach concerts in the 1960s, “I used to go see some of the big name bands at Indiana Beach in the 60’s, my mom & sister & I vacationed there in ’68 and ’69, and I saw the Grassroots, Iron Butterfly & Lemon Pipers then… later in both of those summers, I persuaded some older band friends to take me there to see the vanilla fudge (twice). They also had local teen bands playing 6 nights a week in the ballroom, too, along with lounge bands upstairs above the tiki gods in the fountain.”
Gary, who used to play in Duke Tumatoe’s band and has ties to the Eastside of Indianapolis (his dad was a Tech grad), is an ex-guitar player with the Faith band. He recalls, “They (Faith) occasionally opened up for the bigger name bands in the ballroom, when they were still known as the Chosen Few. I saw them open for the vanilla fudge, and they also opened up for the Who. In 1968, the stage was facing towards the lake which I think they (Vanilla Fudge) had been swimming in (before the show), & the opening act was the Chosen Few (later known as Faith). The stage is back in that same spot now, pretty much.”


Indiana Beach Ballroom today.

“But, in 1969, i have mixed memories of it’s (the stage) location. When they (Vanilla Fudge) performed in the show, they were at the farthest end of the ballroom, facing towards the entrance & the game room, boardwalk, etc… but, it seems like, when they first arrived (late), they did a soundcheck, and were facing where the 1968 stage had been (opposite side of it). That doesn’t make a lot of sense, though, unless they moved the stage, for some reason? Or, there was another one? But, I think it’s a possibility that the stage was in one location for the soundcheck, and moved later for the show. Some of their equipment didn’t show up in time and they (The Chosen Few aka Faith) played with a scaled-down set-up. And during the soundcheck, they messed around with a led zeppelin song as they’d just taken them on their first U.S. tour a few months before.”
During Gary’s stint with the Faith Band, he recalls, “While were riding in the car somewhere, the Faith guitarist told some stories about the Who show. He said they were all having a party in one of the rooms (with the Who), and Keith Moon slipped off somewhere (he may’ve gone down the balcony). I think he ended up in an elderly lady’s room, and she came knocking at the band’s door, holding onto Keith’s earlobe, trying to return him!” When the Who played Indiana Beach in July of 1968, guitarist Pete Townshend knocked out a large chunk of the ballroom ceiling while destroying his guitar on stage. (It has since been patched but the spot may still be seen in the old ballroom.)
Gary, who hadn’t been back to Indiana Beach since 1969, drove back up there in the mid ’90’s, and says, “it was like going back in time. Except for a few new rides, it looked just as it did when I last visited there. Mr. Spackman, the owner, still walked the grounds daily, usually with an unknown, pretty girl in tow. I started driving back up there, on a regular basis, sometimes not even arriving until 30 minutes before closing. But, I’d take a few laps around the boardwalk, and that would last me until my next visit.”
Gary continued, “A few months ago, Mr. Spackman passed away, at the age of 100. I drove up for the funeral showing, and spoke to the family, all of whom had left Indiana Beach. They shared a funny story, around that time, of Cream’s appearance at Clowes Hall, in March of 1968. (I attended that show, by the way, and it was great!) After the show, Eric Clapton heard that B.B. King was playing that night at a local Knights of Columbus or possibly an American Legion or Eagles club, but, i’m pretty sure it was a K. of C., anyway, Eric was already friends with B.B. King, and wanted to go see him. So, they took Eric & Ginger Baker to the place. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but this particular K. of C., or whatever it was, was comprised of mainly black folks. But, they said they had a time with Ginger, because he was chasing all the girls around!”
Gary concludes by recalling, “I went to many of the shows back in those days…they were scattered around venues all over the city, many on the eastside. The Rivoli, The Irving and Melody Skateland…. the nationally-known surf band, the Astronauts, played on the steps of Eastgate once, back in the 60’s. and across the street, at the YMCA, were their weekly teen dances, which were legendary.”


While it may not come as a surprise that big name bands played the Circle City back in the day, often stopping on the eastside for shows, concerts and partying, the idea of Indiana Beach being considered a hot music spot does come as a surprise. A 1968 Indiana Beach publication offers a picture of the Mothers of Invention with a young Frank Zappa, his Fu Manchu mustache and soul patch combo looking as “hip” today as it did in June of 1968. The Who belted out their hit “I Can See For Miles”, The Yardbirds sang their standard “For Your Love”, The Turtles’ performed “So Happy Together”, and Lovin’ Spoonful harmonized the classic “Summer In The City” live on stage at Indiana Beach.
Along with the shows came images of the band members roaming the midway, sunning on the beach, swimming in the lake, crashing the bumper cars and riding the rides alongside Hoosiers who had no idea who they were. Legend claims that the Turtles rode their motorcycles down the midway and that Cher took a long ride on the skyride. But wait, let me blow your mind with a partial list of bands and the dates they played the Beach Ballroom:

The Beach Boys July 19, 1963-Jerry Lee Lewis July 17, 1964-Everly Brothers July 31, 1964-The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie) July 9, 1965, Aug. 5, 1966, and July 21, 1967-The Byrds July 23, 1965-Righteous Brothers July 30, 1965-Sonny & Cher Aug. 20, 1965- Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels May 29, 1966…Lovin’ Spoonful June 24, 1966…The Mindbenders July 15, 1966…Paul Revere & the Raiders July 22, 1966-Simon & Garfunkel Aug. 5, 1966-Yardbirds Aug. 12, 1966 (with a young Jimmy Page on bass and Jeff Beck on guitar)-Tommy James & The Shondells June 2, 1967 (Crimson and Clover & Mony Mony)-Jefferson Airplane July 3, 1967-Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs Aug. 18, 1967 (Wooly Bully & Little Red Riding Hood)-Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention June 21, 1968-Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and Ohio Express June 28, 1968-The Who July 12, 1968-Janis Joplin/Big Brother and Holding Co. Aug. 14, 1968-Guess Who Aug. 29, 1968-Iron Butterfly with REO Speedwagon Aug. 30, 1968 (In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida)-Boyce & Hart Sept. 1, 1968 (I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight & Last Train to Clarksville)-The Box Tops June 27, 1969 (The Letter)-Spencer Davis July 3, 1969 (Gimme Some Lovin’)-The Grass Roots July 11, 1969-REO Speedwagon July 3, 1970 & Chicago July 17, 1970 which is generally considered to be the last big show in the ballroom.

The Indiana Beach ballroom also hosted hundreds of other performances, including legendary big bands who drew massive crowds in the 1940s. Records from most of those performances at the Lake Shafer amusement park in the 1940s and early 1950s are sketchy at best. Some played more than one night, an entire weekend, a whole week of shows or even stayed and played for a month. Those acts included Glenn Miller June 1940-Benny Goodman June 25, 1941-Louis Armstrong June 12, 1955 and again on July 27, 1962-Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey June 28, 1955; Aug. 1, 1956-Dave Brubeck July 3, 1956-Bill Haley & the Comets May 31, 1957 & June 22, 1962 and Duke Ellington Aug. 20, 1957. The “Heart-throbs” and “Folkies” were well represented too with acts like Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio.
The Monticello stop was usually sandwiched between gigs in Chicago and Indianapolis. By the early 1970s, cavernous arenas started to pop up for big rock tours. The arena rock era led to bands being more theatrical (Alice Cooper & Kiss, for example) and elaborate sound and lighting systems made places like the Indiana Beach Ballroom seem archaic and outdated. The list of legendary Indiana Beach bands are all but faded memories now. However, it is fun to think that back in the day, it was possible to drive an hour north of the city to see music history come alive in a room filled with less people than you might find at a Costco or Sam’s Club on any given Tuesday afternoon. And all this for the price of a $ 3.25 ticket.

Amusement Parks, Music, Pop Culture

Janis Joplin at Indiana Beach. Part I.

August 14, 1968 Janis Joplin Indiana Beach Part One August 18, 2014 picture

Janis Joplin on stage at Indiana Beach August 14, 1968.

Original publish date:  August 18, 2014 Reissue date: August 13, 2020

As the last gasps of summer slowly wheeze out of our lungs, I wanna take you back to 1968. America seemed to be coming apart at the seams. It was a presidential election year in the United States. The nation was divided by disputes about civil rights and the war in Vietnam. This seminal year became the backdrop for a confluence of independent yet related phenomena. It marked the end of LBJ’s “Great Society”, the country was ensnared in an unpopular war, campuses were alive with dissent, years of racial unrest were reaching a boiling point, women were burning bras, divorce was on the rise and the youth of the nation were finding their collective voice.


The culture was getting younger, like it or not. Styles and indulgences were taken to revolutionary status; drugs, music, clothing, sexual liberties, you name it and it was changing. There wasn’t a single institution left unchallenged by the nation’s youth. To top it all off, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were tragically removed from the National stage at at time when both were needed most. In the critical year of 1968, as the atmosphere of threats, distrust, and violence poisoned the nation’s politics and public life, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became the mantra. The blows to the national psyche were catastrophic, and were only exacerbated by the urban violence that accompanied both major parties’ political conventions that August.
But 1968 was a golden age for music..artistic expression..and political thesis. On August 14, 1968, 46 years ago this week, an iconic symbol of the sixties was breezing through Indiana. Was it Richard Nixon? Hubert Humphrey? The Beatles? No, it was Janis Joplin and she was rockin’ the main stage in the “Beach Ballroom” at Indiana Beach. Yes, Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana.


At the time, 25-year-old Janis Lyn Joplin was the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her performance at Indiana Beach came a year after her breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and a year and 3 days before she stormed Woodstock with the Kozmic Blues Band on her way to becoming an American Rock n’ Roll legend.
Janis and Big Brother played for a crowd of about 100 people on that Wednesday night. Before the show, while the roadies were setting up the equipment, Janis casually strolled the midway through the games and rides and none of the park visitors bothered her. She later told friends that she “was just having a good old time.” No-one hassled Janis, no-one asked her for autographs, no-one screamed or hollered or caused a scene. Half the people didn’t even know who she was.


For the show, Janis and the band performed on the north stage that faced south. Although no playlist from that particular show exists, the Indiana Beach concert came just two days after the band released their second album, “Cheap Thrills” on August 12, 1968. So it is reasonable to deduce that Janis belted out classics like “Down on me” and “Easy Rider” from their self titled 1967 debut album along with new standards like “Summertime”, “Ball and chain” and “Piece of my heart” from the new album.
A concert at Indiana Beach in the 1960s was like going to the State Fair with the smell of grilling burgers and popping popcorn wafting in from the midway. “It had that carnival atmosphere,” one fan remembered. “It was like going to a big party.” Those who had front-row seats left with unforgettable memories. But with the passage of time, physical evidence has faded away and memorabilia has been long ago tossed in the trash or stowed away in long-forgotten boxes in the attics of Northern Indiana.


The White County Historical Museum is one of the very few places where memorabilia from Indiana Beach Concerts may be found. The museum has a collection of 1960s Era newsletters from the venue known as the “Indiana Beach Preview” and later “Happenings”. Even these newsletters change tone as the decade marches on with the early versions promoting what the park rather innocently called “Dance-In Experiences”. By the late 1960s, these same events were being called a “Psychedelic Experience & Musical Explosion”. Browse through these newsletters today and you will find bubblegum acts like Brenda Lee (I’m sorry, Sweet Nothin’s, Rockin around the Christmas Tree) to Big Bands to Beach Boy look-alike garage bands to the Beach Boys themselves. In these newsletters, music trends and styles change before the reader’s eyes. By 1968, psychedelic and hard rocker bands sporting mutton chops, long hair and wearing dashikis were showing up at Indiana Beach.

Some concert photographs and ticket stubs survive, but posters, contracts and other documentation have essentially vanished. Not even the Spackman family, former owners of Indiana Beach, know where such memorabilia can be found. Nobody was thinking in terms of posterity or Rock ‘n Roll history back then, they were just trying to get more kids into the amusement park to spend money on rides, midway games and food. Had they realized back then that today, those contracts and memorabilia would sell for a day’s receipts at auction, they most certainly would have saved them. By the way, a ticket to see Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the holding company sold for $ 3.10. Amazing huh?
Today, the Beach ballroom sits quietly behind the Indiana Beach arcade never betraying the Rock n’ Roll history it once held sway over. Few people enter the ballroom or even take notice of it. Inside, there’s an odd mix of outdated furniture as well as the old DJ booth. The cement floor remains that once withstood thousands of feet each summer all dancing to the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll royalty. The old stage stood on the north side of the ballroom allowing for a large space for standing room only crowds. The walls opened up to allow people from the outside as well as those docked on their boats, to see and hear the bands if necessary. (Did I mention only 100 people showed up to see Janis?) The ballroom can still be reserved for events, but most live bands now choose to play in the Rooftop Lounge, a bar just a short walk from the historic ballroom. A newer stage was built in the 1970s long after Janis Joplin’s raw, emotional voice pierced the summer air along Lake Shafer.


By the time Janis Joplin finished her set at Indiana Beach, she was on her way to becoming a legend. Big Brother and The Holding Company left Indiana for a gig at the Aragon ballroom in Chicago on August 16-17. By now publicists and media were calling the band “Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company”, which led to dissension among the band. The other members thought that Joplin was on a “star trip”, while others were telling Joplin that Big Brother was a terrible band and that she ought to dump them. On August 18 Big Brother played the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. On August 23 they were playing the Singer Bowl in New York City and just over 2 weeks after performing at Indiana Beach, Big Brother was playing the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It was at this show where Janis Joplin announced that she will leave the band at the end of fall tour.
In 1968, Time magazine called Joplin “probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement”, and Richard Goldstein wrote for the May issue of Vogue magazine that Joplin was “the most staggering leading woman in rock… she slinks like tar, scowls like war… clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave… Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener.” Her final show as a member of Big Brother was December 1, 1968 at the Family Dog Benefit in San Francisco. She had been a member of the band for two and a half years. From that day on, although she toured with a backup band, she would become Janis Joplin. By early 1969, Joplin was allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day. But for that one brief shining moment in Monticello, Indiana, Janis Joplin innocently strolled the carnival midway as just another average kid. The rest, as they say, is history.

If this article about Indiana Beach “blows your mind”, wait til next week when I tell you about some other big name acts that played there. It will be groovy man. Tune in, turn on, tune out…next week.


Next Week: Indiana Beach Part II

Civil War, Creepy history, Ghosts, Irvington Ghost Tours, Travel

Haunted Antique Mall.

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Original publish date:  October 5, 2010              Reissue / Updated: August 6, 2020

Here’s a one tank trip that might just help make your autumn season a little bit better. It combines many things that I like and perhaps a couple of things you might fancy as well; History, Antiques and ghosts! Recently my wife Rhonda and I took a trip down to New Albany, Indiana (just a stones throw from Louisville) to visit a place I’d long heard about but had yet to visit, Aunt Arties Antique Mall at 128 W. Main Street in New Albany.
Judy Gwinn is the owner of the old Ohio River Opera House and has turned the stately old building into one of the nicest antique malls in Southern Indiana. For antiquers, it is like stepping a decade back in time to a multi-dealer co-op with 3 floors of collectibles that would please most any collector. In short, it’s a mall full of quality merchandise the likes of which we all used to find in the days before Ebay.
“There are a lot of strange things that go on in this old building,” Judy says, “It has a vibe all its own.” Gwinn has operated the antique mall for nearly 10 years now and has witnessed many unexplained occurrences over the past decade. Lucky for Judy and her dealers, the ghosts of Aunt Arties aren’t poltergeists so breakage has not been a problem, “Although they sometimes move things around the building.”

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Woodward Hall New Albany, Indiana

The building, originally known as Woodward Hall, was built in 1853 and purposely situated a block from the river on the corner of State and Main, “J.K. Woodward built it so that his wife and kids did not have to deal with the drunks and neer-do-wells that often prowled the docks down by the river in the years before the Civil War. He wanted a safe place for his family to enjoy themselves.” said Judy. In its lifetime just about every famous person who passed through New Albany appeared on the 3rd floor Opera House including the famed Siamese twins Eng and Chang, P.T.Barnum’s diminutive protege Tom Thumb and his friend, Commodore Foote, Opera star Adelina Patti, Philosopher/Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and self taught former slave turned master musician Blind Tom who was billed as the “Negro piano prodigy.” Not every performer to grace the stage of old Woodward Hall was famous though. The venue attracted countless numbers of minstrel shows, political debates, religious revivals, social lectures and dramatic productions.
The lower 2 levels housed a dry goods / department store well into the 20th century in what was once the largest city in the state before the Civil War. Although Judy is responsible for its current look, it has been used as an antique store since the late 1980s. Along with the city’s reputation as a river community, New Albany also has a rich history as a factory town and will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2013.
z utc posterThe Opera House hosted the first performance of the inflammatory anti-slavery play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and its location straddling the North-South boundary caused quite a stir in the days leading up to the Civil War. During the “War of the Rebellion”, the building was used as “Hospital No. 9” and soldiers from both sides of the conflict could often be found lying side-by-side within its walls. In April of 1862, the steamer “H.J. Adams” delivered 200 wounded soldiers to the converted Opera House fresh from the killing fields of Shiloh. In these years before sterilization set the standard of hospital care, a wounded soldier sent to Hospital No. 9, as with any hospital North or South of the Mason-Dixon line, might as well have been handed a death sentence. Many a soldier in Hospital No. 9 would write letters telling friends and family that he was on the mend from a minor battle wound one day, only to die unexpectedly the next day from disease.
Judy and the girls that work in the mall feel that some of these performers and soldiers have never left the building. “I never believed in ghosts until I bought this building. Neither did my husband, but after all of the strange things we’ve experienced in this building, We have changed my minds,” Judy Gwinn said. However, she is no longer afraid of being thought of as a crackpot because she is not the only person to witness these unexplained happenings.
z 5c05d88edef32.imageJudy recalls how in 2001, her youngest son David was down in the building’s cellar “fishing” for old bottles in a cistern that he had removed the concrete covering from. “He was laying on his stomach down there alone when he suddenly felt someone tap him on the shoulder” she says, “he looked around expecting to see the source of the poking, but saw that he was still down there alone. Since that time, David does not like to be in the basement by himself.”
Judy recalls one time when she and her sister were walking down the stairway from the second to the first floor when she suddenly lost her balance and began to fall. “Something pulled me back and saved me from falling and serious injury. I shook for several minutes after that one.” says Judy.
img485Spirits of a Civil War soldier and a woman in an old fashioned Antebellum Era dress have been seen lounging around the cafe area by a few folks. “Every once in awhile, we’ll get a psychic coming through here telling us that they see the spirits of several Civil War soldiers around the entire building and sense sadness in the basement area.” says Gwinn.
On one occasion, Judy was down in the cellar with a group of 4 people when the youngest person down there, an 11-year-old girl wandered a few feet away from the group. “We all watched as a bright white orb of light appeared and went right through that little girl.” she says, “I have seen shadows go through walls and felt the tapping on my own shoulder. Whatever it is, I’m not scared of it anymore.”
Judy Gwinn might not be afraid of the ghosts that linger within the walls of Aunt Arties Antique Mall, but others might have a different opinion. Judy confesses that some people have walked in the doors and turned around and walked right back out. She’s seen more than a few people start walking up the stairs only to suddenly stop and walk carefully back down the stairway. When asked about the basement, Judy says, “Oh my, I don’t think we could ever use this area for anything more than storage. Its just too creepy and I’m not even sure that the employees want to come down here.”

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Tim Poynter delivering a presentation at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis.

Update: This article originally ran 10 years ago. Aunt Arties closed its doors on New Years Eve of 2014 and the remaining contents were auctioned off in February of 2015. After Rhonda and I visited the store in the Fall of 2010, we took another trip down with several intuitives, including Tim Poynter and Jill Werner. My decision to rerun this story came after the following facebook post from Tim: “Aunt Arties was once a stop on the underground railroad with a reputation of being haunted by a Lady in blue/gray. When we arrived the spirit of a young soldier started following one of the group around. He was very smitten with Jill and had big puppy dog eyes. I noticed the lady spirit on the stairway overseeing our groups investigation. We spent some time on each floor looking for spirits. Near the end of our visit I noticed several spirits of slaves that had been buried on the property still residing in the basement even after all those years. They has perished from injuries received from their perilous journey to freedom. They were still very afraid of our attention to their being there. I remember being overwhelmed with their fear and mistrust. The connection with spirit often comes with much more than we expect. After understanding that we were not a threat they became more forth-giving of their trip to freedom. Even though they had died, they died as free men. I helped them understand that the only thing holding them there was their own energy and off they went. We that were born to freedom seldom understand it’s true value. Those that restrict the freedom of others don’t understand the mark they leave on their own soul.” Well said, Tim, well said.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Museums, National Park Service, Pop Culture

A Hoosier Guard on Alcatraz PART IV

Albright Part IV
The author and Jim Albright at the Albright family home in Terre Haute.

Original publish date:  July 30, 2020

I asked guard Jim Albright what he remembers about the closing of Alcatraz prison in March of 1963, in particular the visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “Oh yeah. I remember. He toured the island and had about 50 bodyguards all around him. He didn’t want any of those bad guys to get near him.” Jim can still recall the names and numbers of the infamous inmates on the island when he was there. “Whitey Bulger # 1428, Alvin Creepy Karpis # 325. Alvin was the lowest number left when I was there. Alvin did more time on the island than any other convict. He did just straight at 26 years.” Jim recalls both Bulger and Karpis as “good cons”, both were “quiet and respectful when they spoke to you.” However Jim does say this about Karpis, a notorious kidnapper with the Ma Barker gang, “He was creepy, oh yeah, he was creepy.” Jim states, “I always treated them like I would have wanted to be treated had I been the convict. My job was not to punish them, my job was security.”z ce unnamed
Jim recalls, “Everybody talks about that escape in the Clint Eastwood movie, but I was on duty for the last escape from Alcatraz. John Paul Scott # 1503. December 16, 1962. That was 25 years, almost to the day from the first escape. I was in the control center. I got the call on the red phone, that’s the emergency phone, and you ‘dial the deuces’ as they call it, 222. ‘Jim get me some help, I got a couple missing from the kitchen basement’ was all I heard.” It was Jim Albright’s responsibility to call out the news, order the boat and man the towers for that final escape. Once again displaying his amazing recall after nearly 60 years, Jim says, “Darrel and Don Pickens, they were from Arizona, and they were both red haired and red freckles, red faced…I put them out in # 2 and # 3 towers and every thing’s going along and pretty soon they’re yelling.” They had found Scott’s fellow escapee Daryl D. Parker clinging for life on “Little Alcatraz” (a small rock in San Francisco Bay roughly 80 yards off the northwest side of the Island). Scott, by now naked and battered senseless, came to rest on a rocky outcropping in the bay near Fort Point. He was brought back to the Rock.z JOHN PAUL SCOTT L

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Frank Weatherman & Jim Albright (far right)

“I escorted the last inmate off the island, Frank Weatherman # 1576. We never had reporters, they were never allowed on the island but that day (of the closing) we probably had 250 of ’em, from all walks of news. One of ’em almost got in line as we’re heading out and asked me ‘what do you think about this?’ as we’re walking and I said, ‘Hey! I’m still working. My job is going on right now. The biggest thing I gotta watch right now is that one of you damned idiots don’t give ’em something they can escape with. Afterwards, I thought, Jim, keep your big mouth shut.” I asked Cathy where she was during that final prisoner walk down to the dock and she answered, “I was on the balcony watching. I was filming it.” Jim says, “We took the film to get it developed, but never got it back.” Cathy answers, “Somebody’s got it but we don’t.” Cathy also notes, “Well the inmates did not want Alcatraz to close. Some of them cried when they left because where they were going they might have to go to a 4-or-5-man cell, Alcatraz was single cells and they liked that.” Jim adds, “Some of them went, and Creepy Karpis was one of em, to McNeil Island in Washington and they had 10-man cells up there. Creepy, for 25, 26 years almost was used to a one man cell. They finally paroled him and deported him to Canada…from there he went to Spain. I guess he couldn’t take being free, cause he hung himself.”

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Inmate # 594: Robert Stroud aka The Birdman of Alcatraz.

Jim missed Robert Stroud, the infamous “Birdman of Alcatraz”, by just a few days. “I went there in August and he left in July. But I heard all the stories about him,” Jim recalls. “He was not liked by inmates or staff, either one. You talk about somebody no good, that was him…He was a weird old, nasty guy.” Jim and Cathy remained on the island for three months after that last inmate was escorted onto the boat by Officer Albright himself. It was only afterwards that the couple allowed themselves a little luxury, “We were there March to June. We moved from 64 building over across the parade ground to the city side…They had what they called B & C apartments, these were nicer apartments, they had fireplaces in them.” Jim smiles as he recalls Alcatraz historian and author Jerry Champion jokingly asking, “You had a fireplace did ya? Where’d you get your firewood?” (There are no trees on Alcatraz island).

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Jim Albright returns to Alcatraz.

Jim guesses that there may be a “half a dozen or less” Alcatraz guards still living, and “two of them are in wheelchairs” and the former guard estimates the same for the former convicts. Cathy notes that the inmates used to come to the reunions too and Jim recalls that it took awhile for the inmates to show up because “they were ashamed of what the guards would think, ya know.” But spend five minutes with Jim Albright and you quickly realize that he was never one to hold a grudge. Officer Albright is simply not the judging kind. Jim Albright is a people person. He enjoys meeting people and loves to see their reactions when he shares his story, especially when he reveals that they lived on the island. “As soon as I tell them that and point to my wife, it’s “FWEET!” (he says with a whistle and grin), they go right over to her and I’ve lost ’em.”
For many years, Jim and Cathy traveled by train from Terre Haute to San Francisco, a 2 1/4 day’s travel from nearby Galesburg, Illinois. “There used to be 150 people come out to those reunions, but then it got down to 30 cause there’s just nobody left.” Because of the current situation with Covid-19, the couple’s trip has been postponed. Cathy admits, “Well, we’re all getting older” and Jim chimes in, “And that’s the thing about not going in August, that means that last August was probably our last time going out there. The odds are against us.” Jim and Cathy fear that the alumni association will soon be no more. “There’s just not enough of ’em left,” Cathy says.
z DYwvoC_VAAABixRA week after our visit to Jim and Cathy Albright, the United States Supreme Court lifted the ban on executions at the Terre Haute penitentiary located a mere three miles from their front door. At the time of this writing, there had been three executions in four days. While there were never any State sanctioned executions at Alcatraz, there was not much rehabilitation taking place there either. Convicts were different back then, some actually viewed it as a profession. When asked about the convicts of today, Jim simply shakes his head and says, “They were more like professional convicts ya know ‘I did the crime, I’ll do the time’. It’s just not the same. It’s a different world now.”
In his book, Jim wrote quite eloquently of his feelings on that last day, “Emotions of prison personnel were very strong and it was hard to accept that all the convicts were gone…I boarded the boat for the last time as a guard on Alcatraz. I though to myself, what an experience I had just completed, and how fast the time went by. I felt tears grow in my eyes as the boat went across the water to Fort Mason.” I asked the couple individually, if they could make one statement about the Rock, what would it be? Cathy answered, “Well, I really liked the place. I did not want to leave. It was one big family… It was something special. It was home.” Jim reflected for a few moments, titled his head back as if looking through the mist of time, and replied, “A very enjoyable life living on the island and a very safe place to raise our children.”

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The Rock.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary has been closed for over 57 years now. During that time it has become more myth than reality. Alcatraz Island encompasses a total of 22 acres in the center of San Francisco Bay. It opened to the public in fall 1973 and since that time has hosted millions of people from every corner of the world. The flood of people who once lived on the island during the time it was the world’s most famous prison has trickled to a slow drip. However, there remains one couple living on the western edge of the Hoosier state who know that sometimes, even if they don’t consider themselves as such, legends are real and history is the foundation of all that is worthy in life.

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