What do a dying white flower, a Ford Mustang lapel pin, and a comic book store have in common?
They’re three of a hand-full of cryptic items received by a number of media and community outlets, including Wikibruce.com, tied together only by the historic – and mysterious – prison island of Alcatraz, as portrayed in the new TV series from JJ Abrams.
Alcatraz is historically known as the “The Rock” – an island situated in San Francisco Bay converted to a maximum-security prison, touted essentially as an impenetrable, and inescapable fortress. Supposedly.
In 2007, I had the privilege of visiting the prison when the ARGFest alternate reality gaming conference took place in San Francisco. The tour was a chilling, exciting look into history, providing a glimpse at the troubling and unsettling lifestyles of those who were sentenced and trapped within its walls.
It’s not surprising that Alcatraz has greatly interested creator JJ Abrams whose TV series premiered January 16th, which explores a mystery about the island and its inhabitants. And of course, JJ with his metaphorical mystery box has once again begun a viral/transmedia campaign to help extend the show and its story beyond our television set.
On Friday the 13th, Wikibruce received this package, laid out below, containing some mysterious artifacts from Abrams’ world of “Alcatraz”. If this extended experience is planned to be anywhere as expansive as the LOST Experience, it’s a good bet there is certainly much more to come during the life of the TV show.
The metal box inside the packaging had no lock, and is a brushed metal texture.
1. A tour brochure “Discover Alcatraz” from 2011
2. A decrepit white flower
3. Alcatraz branded key
4. A Ford Mustang lapel pin
5. Newspaper clip from SF Intelligencer, March 22 1963
6. A postcard sent by “Susie” to “Nana Feinstein”
7. A souvenir lenticular postcard
8. Torn corner of page 65 from “Inmates of Alcatraz”
9. Torn magazine page with a book review and 2012 Ford Mustang ad
Other reported packages have contained a still live-looking flower, but have been reported it as either a white lotus, or a daisy.
There is a yellow chrysanthemum flower connection with the film Escape From Alcatraz:
We are first exposed to this flower in the yard during the prisoner’s sole hour of recreation each week. Doc, a venerable, old felon, paints a self-portrait with a flower in his breast pocket. Upon probing by Morris, we learn that it is a metaphor for his spirit. While the warden can take away all of his rights, the one thing they cannot take away from him is his flower. As long as he has his flower, his will to live, and, to some extent, to escape, will continue. To some, this symbolizes the never-ending struggle to escape from the island. Yet, to all, it provides them with a symbol of hope that they too will not wilt under the severity of the penal system.
~source: Return to Alcatraz
Replica of an Alcatraz cellhouse key. All packages’ keys appear to be identical.
A Ford Mustang tri-bar lapel pin.
Ford, clearly a corporate sponsor of the show, will undoubtedly be appearing repeatedly in any Alcatraz-related content, as seen in the Mustang ads below.
San Francisco Bay Intelligencer, March 22 1963. The article of interest: “The Final Lockdown” by Gretchen Juerera. This article is dated the day after Alcatraz was closed and all inmates reportedly transferred.
Reverse: teaser ad for the announcement of the 1964 Ford Mustang.
The Final Countdown
ALCATRAZ. The very name connotes solitude, fear and punishment.
Thousands of America’s worst criminals were sentenced to hard time in this notorious penitentiary; many died there, others served out the full term of their respective stays, but nobody ever escaped. It was a severe locale that offered little to no promise of hope or redemption.
Last night, however, all USP Alcatraz prisoners vacated the premises once and for all.
What was the government’s official reason for closing the facility? In a word: money. Estimates indicate that it was costing over ten dollars per day to house the typical inmate. Compare that to the three-dollar per capita cost at other federal institutions. The financial strain was becoming too exorbitant to bear; shutdown was inevitable.
Prison officials declined our interview requests, citing their prohibitively hectic schedules. Instead, Warden Edwin James issued the following statement to the press:
“This is an immense undertaking. We are completing the transfer paperwork on 256 inmates and working to find comparable positions for all 46 of our federal employees who will be displaced by this transition. But rest assured; our relocation initiative is taking every precaution to preserve the safety of all individuals involved, especially the civilian population at large.”
So, what will become of the ominous rock jutting from our majestic bay? City planners are remaining tight-lipped on the matter, but one thing is for sure: it is indelibly seared into the landscape of our past, our present and our future.
1964 Ford Mustang teaser:
The most exciting thing on TV tonight will be a commercial
Get your first good look at next year’s most exciting new car.
The new 1964 Ford Mustang!
A postcard depicting Alcatraz Island. Other packages received different postcards, however they all had the same message from “Susie” written (individually hand-written, I might add) on the backs.
The message references the scene near the beginning of episode 1, where a young girl (who we can assume to be Susie) breaks away from her tour group, and spots the episode’s antagonist Jack Sylvane lying in a cell.
Alkatraz is fun. It smells old here. I went to a part where I wasn’t supost[sic] to go and a man was sleeping in the jail cell. I screamed and mom and dad found me. The guard told the sleeping man to leave. We all went home on the ferry.
This postcard is a heavier stock lenticular postcard, from 2008. The two scenes, seen by pivoting the card vertically, depict Alcatraz cell block C circa 1960, and as it appears ‘today’ (2008).
No further writing is on the clean postcard.
This torn corner of page 85/86 is from the book “Inmates of Alcatraz“. On the front, p65, is the mug shot of Jack Sylvane, the episode 1 antagonist. The page itself appears on-screen (src: WelcomeToAlcatraz), though slightly different in page layout. Jack’s prison ID reads:
04 27 56
08 25 60
And finally, the artifact most relevant to the online campaign, a book review by Nancy Gleinen. This is page 34, torn from a magazine named “Commerce Quantified”. Nancy reviews the book Inmates of Alcatraz, by Dr. Diego Soto. Letters throughout the article are circled, however, and when put together spell “legendsofalcatraz”
This quickly led people to LegendsOfAlcatraz.com, a landing site boldly branded for the TV series. At the time of the show’s premiere, it contained a countdown to the airing of episode 1.
Inmates of Alcatraz appears in the TV show as the book that led officer Rebecca Madsen to Diego, who she considered a specialist in Alcatraz knowledge, as she sought help to locate the criminal (and ex-Alcatraz inmate) Jack Sylvane.
On the page reverse: Poetic symmetry – an ad for Ford’s upcoming 2013 Mustang. “All legend. Zero compromise.”
Nancy’s Non-Fiction Nook
Literary reviews by Nancy Gleinen
With his enthralling Inmates of Alcatraz, Dr. Diego Soto goes behind the bars and unlocks the twisted lives of a population formerly lost to history.
If you want a healthy dose of murder, regret and intrigue, don’t resort to watching soap operas – head out to your local bookstore and pick up the latest entry in Soto’s already impressive oeuvre that I like to call ‘Alcatraz revisited.’ He goes beyond the usual suspects (your Capones, your Machine Gun Kellys, your Birdmen) and paints an intimate portrait of dozens of forgotten inmates, each story leaping from the page with ferocity and renewed urgency. It’s as if they’re reanimating before your very eyes!
Despite the human-centric title, the book also delves into the foreboding setting of Alcatraz Island. ‘The Rock’ has never been so jagged, menacing and craggy – every vista provides a skewed take on humanity, Soto-style. He finds a way to transform the irregular outcropping into a shiv of brilliance. It is the judge, jury and executioner in this sordid tale of amorality run akok; no matter how notable the real-life characters in this book may be, they will never overshadow the prison itself.
But don’t take my word for it – Soto’s whimsical prose speaks for itself. Here’s an excerpt from the opening chapter of Inmates:
“Everything about USP Alcatraz is larger than life; the people, the history, even the daily operations boggle the mind. For instance, the feds shipped about a million gallons of fresh water from the mainland every week. Imagine: bringing water to an island. Trip out on that.”
Trip out, indeed. Soto bites into his subject matter like a jubilant piranha, shredding all preconceptions and injecting new blood into the burgeoning subgenre of obscure historiography. He revels in every scrap of evidence, reads them like decaying tea leaves and translates the whispers of the past into thunderous declarations of the now. Suffice it to say, Inmates of Alcatraz is my Book of the Week!
Diego “Doc” Soto is also the owner of a comic book shop called “Doc’s Comics and Collectibles”, which appears a few times in the show. He’s a somewhat social author, in that he’s also set up the twitter account @SotoDoc, though hasn’t used it in months. Additionally, he set up a very minimalistic tumbr blog for his store at docscomics.tumblr.com. Inside, we find an embedded commercial for his Inmates book — watch here:
From the episodes themselves, keen-eyed observers noticed a number of easter eggs and potential leads. For example, one of JJ Abrams’ staple easter eggs is the inclusion of the name “Kelvin” in his projects – his way of dedicating his work to his grandfather who influenced him as a child. Two instances have already been spotted.
Additionally, in episode 2 a QR code was spotted next to Jack’s new cell block’s label “AZ 2024″. As of this writing, no one’s recreated a scannable replica of the code to determine what it reads.
Having watched the 2 hour premiere, it’s clear that the package contents were intended to tease at elements of the 2 episodes’ plots – from Jack Sylvane and Ernest Cobb to the very minor role of the young girl on the prison tour. The fact that much of the box content is available today for anyone visiting the island doesn’t lead me to believe that there any additional hints or unresolved threads. I’ve even combed over every artifact with a black light, hoping to find a hidden message, somewhere, but come up blank.
The existence of the (abandoned?) twitter account, and Diego’s tumblr blog implies that transmedia- possibly ARGish- content was, and likely still is on the drawing board. However, where LOST’s campaign provided mysteries and clues from the get-go, it seems that this rabbithole package has been fully resolved, being simply a teaser for the 2 hour premiere episodes.
The show itself has interested me, however, with a healthy dose of crime action, humour, and mystery (though somewhat diluted by preview videos and detailed looks at the series plot), but it left with a decent cliffhanger, beckoning me to return and watch the next episode. My primary hope though, is that with the apparent structure of the plot dealing with returning inmates – and guards – the extended experience will provide an independent parallel plot with its own characters and real-world mysteries and events tied in to the show, akin to the extended experience provided by the creators of Heroes.
Are authors Nancy Gleinen and Gretchen Juerera just one-offs? Will we see Diego’s book “Inmates of Alcatraz” appear in full for sale on Amazon or in book stores? Will Susie and Nana make a reappearance? Will we have more of Diego’s comic-book store activities entertain us? Will we help solve an inmate mystery and track down a criminal in the real world?
Stay tuned! — Since the show aired, LegendsOfAlcatraz.com has revealed something new…
Alcatraz on FOX
Some official Alcatraz lore guide videos:
- Diego “Doc” Soto‘s character profile
- Rebecca Madsen‘s character profile
- Emerson Hauser‘s character profile
- First look featurette
- Preview #1, Preview #2, Preview #3
- Interview with JJ Abrams
Other Alcatraz transmedia experience links
- Package received at FirstShowing.net
- Package received at ComingSoon.net
- Package received at MovieWeb.com
- Package received at BadassDigest.com
- Package received at LA Times’ HeroComplex
- A fan site takes a look at the package content: WelcometToAlcatraz.com (italian)
- Discussion at Unfiction forums