Terminal Island

Terminal Island is a largely artificial island in the middle of Los Angles harbor. The original island was called Rattlesnake Island, and later, they dug up an adjacent 60-acre island called Dead Man’s Island to expand Rattlesnake Island.


This is the place where Howard Hughes launched the epic Spruce Goose (above) and flew it on its one and only voyage from the island. That project was a bust and it’s certainly ironic that SpaceX builds Elon Musk’s spaceships there today.

The island was also a temporary location for interred Japanese before they were sent to the camps in WWII. Most folks don’t know that the Japanese and Japanese Americas weren’t mandated to go to the camps exactly. They were given 48 hours to remove themselves from the Pacific Coast 10 days after Pearl Harbor, and if they could move east with family or to Hawaii they were permitted to do that. About 10% did. Those remaining were held in these temporary camps while the inland camps were being built. Sad times for everyone.

Not half so sad as for the 900 or so occupants of the federal prison on the island. Notable inmates include Timothy Leary, who wowed a generation, and old crazy eyes himself—Charles Manson.

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”
Charles Manson — pre-swastika forehead tattoo

Rosario Gambino did a stretch, and so did the Port Chicago 50 who were 50 African-American sailors convicted of mutiny for refusing to load ammunition onto US Navy ships due to unsafe conditions in WWII. Well, the conditions were unsafe as the whole port exploded killing 100s including 202 black sailors.

By far the most famous inmate held there was Al Capone who did an 8 year stretch for tax evasion. He paid essentially no taxes even though he was estimated to be pulling down $100 million a year by the time he was 30. 

Of course tax evasion was the least of his crimes, but it was one that the Feds got to stick. He also whacked at least 35 people and was the most famous mobster America ever produced. He was the top guy in Chicago when he was 26. The man lived hard and by the time he went to prison he was pretty sick. He had a number of ailments including syphilis which ended up killing him. 

For a time he navigated the prison system with ease like his run at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Chushy Penn State accommodations for Uncle Al

For some reason the Feds moved him to Alcatraz and finally to Terminal Island where his brain became unmoored and he fell to pieces. 

Somewhat less grand on Terminal Island

Al died at 48, demented and broken. Terminal Island indeed.

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