MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, October 9th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Up next, the WORLD History Book. This week: a sitting U.S. president nominates a new vice president. But first, the U.S. government builds the most secure prison—and perhaps most infamous prison in the world.
Here’s WORLD Radio intern, Emma Perley.
EMMA PERLEY, INTERN: During the American Civil War, Alcatraz island had been a military fort near San Francisco, California. By 1907, it had transformed into a military prison.
In 1933, construction begins for a federal penitentiary. Steel reinforced concrete cell blocks reach three stories high with over 600 cells. The prison opens in 1934, meant for the most brutal and ruthless inmates.
In April 1954, burglar, carjacker, and self-described “thug” Bob Luke is sent to Alcatraz for 12 years. Audio here from an Obasmedia video posted to YouTube.
DOCUMENTARY: Course we all had heard of Alcatraz. It was gonna be the end of the line.
There is no escape behind the unbreakable steel bars. Alcatraz has a unique system where the doors don’t lock with keys. Instead, prison guards shut the cell doors through a manually operated lever located at the end of the corridor.
DOCUMENTARY: Rack em! [SOUND OF PRISON DOORS CLOSE]Alcatraz really was, in every sense of the word, “the slammer.”
It’s like being in a tomb. You just know this is gonna be it for a while.
Bob never thinks about escape. Those who try are always hauled back and thrown into solitary confinement. That is, until 1962.
NEWSREEL: A spoon proves mightier than the bars at supposedly escape proof Alcatraz prison. Three bank robbers serving long terms scratched their way through grills covering an air vent, climbed a drainage pipe, and disappeared from the forbidding rock in San Francisco bay.
The escaped prisoners are never found and presumed dead, most likely swept out to sea by a strong current. But some maintain they’d pulled off one of the most infamous prison breaks ever. Audio here from a 1962 newsreel:
NEWSREEL: The escape triggered the greatest manhunt in San Francisco’s history.
The escape illustrated the need to restore the water-damaged concrete walls. But instead officials shut Alcatraz Penitentiary down for good in 1963. It now exists as a crumbling monument to the Great Depression era of organized crime, where super gangsters met their match—and their fate.
Next, October 12th, 1973…U.S. President Richard Nixon stands at a podium in the White House East Room as millions of Americans tune in by radio and television.
NIXON: [APPLAUSE] Our distinguished guests, I proudly present to you the man whose name I will submit to the Congress of the United States for confirmation as the vice president of the United States…Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan.
Just two days earlier, Spiro Agnew had stepped down as Nixon’s vice president, pleading “no contest” to tax evasion charges. Ford’s nomination surprises many…including the House Minority Leader himself.
FORD: Mr. President, I'm deeply honored. And I am extremely grateful. And I'm terribly humble(d).
Ford’s confirmation easily moves through both houses of Congress. Nearly 97% of the Senate and 92% of the House of Representatives support his nomination. On December 6th, 1973, Gerald Ford becomes the 40th Vice President of the United States.
FORD: I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln (LAUGHTER). My addresses will never be as eloquent as Mr. Lincoln's. But I will do my very best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking…
Ford tells his wife that the vice presidency will be “a nice conclusion” to his career. But less than a year later Vice President Ford becomes President Ford after Richard Nixon resigns rather than face impeachment. Nixon had served for five years.
Ford is the only president in American history to have never been elected President nor Vice President.
That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Emma Perley.
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