One million immigrants first set foot in the U.S. via California's Angel Island. A new museum is filled with their ghostly murmurings.
New York's Ellis Island may get more play in the movies, but it isn't the only immigration center in the country with a storied past. From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island in San Francisco Bay served as a primary port of entry for people arriving from Russia, Japan, China, and India. After a three-year renovation, the landmark has just reopened with a new museum, the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island, as its focal point.
Previously off-limits to the public, the dorm-style barracks for detainees have been filled as they once were, with metal bunk beds, worn leather satchels, and games such as mah-jongg. Also preserved is the graffiti carved into the walls by occupants. "Imprisoned in the wooden building day after day. My freedom is withheld; how can I bear to talk about it?" reads one scribble. The interrogation process often extended for weeks; you can read transcripts of FBI-like interviews covering everything from the names of immigrants' neighbors to the type of flooring in their homes.
One of the detainees, Dale Ching, of Guangdong, China, volunteers as a docent. "That was the only happy day," he says of his release after three months. "History, even if it isn't pretty, needs to be passed on to the next generation. That's why I'm back—to tell my side of the story." aiisf.org, $15.
Angel Island Extra For a look at some of the outpost's other notable relics, such as a Cold War–era missile base, sign up for a two-hour, guided island tour on a Segway. angelisland.com, $75.