USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘criminals’
Legends
Narrative

A Train to Alcatraz: A Contemporary Legend

So they’d convicted Al Capone for tax evasion in Chicago and sent him to prison in the Midwest, uhh Atlanta, I think. When they transferred him to Alcatraz, y’know maximum security – no one gets outta there, and they say his gang was planning to break him out during transit when he was coming through Tiburon on the uhh traintracks– you know the bike train used to be traintracks.

 So the exact route for ‘is move to Alcatraz was… top secret. What they did was made it sound like he was going by either armored truck, maybe by train to San Francisco… But they, uhh, they secretly put him on this train car and chained him to the floor – I mean, they chained him to the floor.

And so the train come into the train depot downtown, where Café Acri is now, and they used cranes to lift the entire car onto a ferry, a uhh uh uh, barge with Al Capone chained to it and then barged him to Alcatraz and completely avoided San Francisco.

This is story I’ve heard numerous times. My dad (aka Paul) has a knack for saying the same thing over and over, paraphrasing himself, retelling stories. My dad mainly tells this story whenever he’s showing someone from out of the area around Tiburon. I may have heard it before, but I still love this story. I remember one day we were walking along the bike trail, the former train tracks, and we worked out that my Great Grandfather almost certainly watched from the porch as the heavily guarded train car passed by his, now our, house.

Interestingly enough, the legend turns out to be true. Around 40 inmates were being moved from an Atlanta prison to “The Rock,” also known as Alcatraz. The warden discovered a plot to free Al Capone in route because an escape from Alcatraz was reportedly impossible. Capone was transported with extra security and, seeing the biggest weakness in security would be the trek through San Francisco, opted to go through Tiburon instead. Al Capone’s train car was placed on a barge and towed via tugboat directly to Alcatraz. There were apparently guards at the Tiburon ferry terminal and in small boats to make sure no other boats came close to the barge.

For more information on this legend, see the following articles from local newspapers like Mercury News and the MarinIJ.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

pakistani slang

Context: The informant is a 30 year old married Pakistani schoolteacher and mother. She jokingly asked her cousin, who was visiting America, to buy her a store’s entire stock of a certain makeup product (that had the number 420 in its name) when she came back, and the cousin replied, you are a 420. When questioned about the meaning of this phrase, the informant laughed and replied that it was slang for a thief or fraud. Questioned further, she revealed that the term comes from the Pakistani penal code, in which “302 is for murder criminals and 420 is for thieves–like they say in the movies, a 201 is going down or something.”

Analysis: This particular slang phrase is interesting in that the origin is a written piece of work–and not even something that is easily accessible to most laypeople, like a storybook or a children’s movie, but the very laws of the country, which are, no doubt, as convoluted and verbose as those of any in the US. However, these codes have made their way, either through the jargon of lawmakers and law enforcement officials, or through popular movies that use “authentic” police jargon in their police scenes, to the laypeople who now use it, not to actually accuse or apprehend anyone, but to jokingly call out each others’ social vices. The act of exaggerating a little social or moral error into something criminalizable by the national penal code may be a way of enforcing social norms while still maintaining social relationships.

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