Most People Have Never Heard About This Island In San Francisco. The Truth Behind It Is Fascinating

Alcatraz is the San Francisco Bay's most famous island, it is certainly not alone. The history of Angel Island is equally fascinating and haunting. 

Franco Folini

It's actually one of the largest islands of the bay, seconded only to Alameda.

Bill Couch

For the first half of the 20th century, Angel Island served as the west coast's version of Ellis Island.

Bill Couch

The island processed a million travelers and immigrant citizens coming across the Pacific.

John Loo


1882's Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect, making it essentially impossible for Chinese people to emigrate to the U.S.

National Archives

Only a few exceptions were made, the most notable was for families of U.S. citizens.

Marcin Wichary

This led potential immigrants to bluff a kinship with established Americans in an elaborate scheme referred to as "paper sons."

This created extensive interrogation procedures to follow up on the trails of these alleged family connections.

Frank Fujimoto

During this time, the would-be immigrants were held captive at Angel Island.

California Historical Society


This could mean weeks, even months, of detainment. To pass the time, the detainees wrote poetry, etching it into the walls.

Jason Tester | Guerrilla Futures

Officers puttied over the walls to cover up the verses, but they kept reappearing.


From one of the poems:

"This place is called an island of immortals.
When, in fact, this mountain wilderness is a prison.
Once you see the open net, why throw yourself in?
It is only because of empty pockets, I can do nothing else."


In 1940, a fire destroyed the administration building and the immigrant processing was moved to the mainland. Today, Angel Island is a California State Park.

Roger Wagner

Credit: Backstory Radio

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