Nestled amidst the scenic beauty of Portland, Oregon, a city renowned for its vibrant culture and enchanting moniker, the “City of Roses” lies a haunting history concealed beneath its charming facade.
Despite its outward refinement in the late 19th century, Portland harbored an evil reality beneath its surface called “shanghaiing,” which involved kidnapping unsuspecting individuals for sale into forced labor on ships.
The victims, often sailors, loggers, cowboys, and those who embraced the adventurous life, were easy prey for Shanghaiers and crimps who haunted the city’s numerous saloons, pool halls, and gambling parlors.
This happened so frequently that Portland held the infamous title of “Shanghai Capital of the World”.
The Enigmatic Shanghai Tunnels
The Shanghai Tunnels formed a labyrinth beneath the city’s streets. These tunnels connected a network of vice establishments, including opium dens, houses of prostitution, and saloons. Beneath what we now call Old Town, Skidmore Fountain, and Chinatown, these catacombs created an eerie subterranean world where countless lives were forever altered.
Men and women alike fell victim to this nefarious trade. Knockout drops slipped into drinks, concealed trapdoors leading to the tunnels, and cunning abductions resulted in their imprisonment in small, dark cells or makeshift holding areas. Like a wisp of smoke, some victims seemed to vanish without a trace, condemned to a life of white slavery or endless sea voyages.
The Perilous Journey to Nowhere
The victims’ harrowing ordeal continued through the winding tunnels beneath the city, leading them to the waterfront. Sea captains needing additional crew members purchased them for a paltry sum – typically $50 to $55 per head. The knockout drops ensured they remained unconscious until they were far out at sea.
A Sinister Alliance
This grim trade was not the work of a few isolated individuals. It was a well-organized network that involved the collusion of law enforcement, politicians, and prominent business leaders. The Shanghai Tunnels, which extended from the North End (comprising today’s Old Town, Skidmore Fountain, and Chinatown) to the South End (encompassing today’s southwest downtown area), provided the ideal environment for this hidden world to flourish.
Shrouded in Legend and Dread
The catacombs of the Shanghai Tunnels forged a notorious history shrouded in myth, superstition, and fear. While many victims eventually found their way back to Portland, some endured the harrowing ordeal for as long as two complete voyages, equating to six years, before escaping the clutches of this evil trade.
How to Explore the Tunnels Yourself
Today, the Shanghai Tunnels remain a chilling reminder of a bygone era. If you are in the mood this spooky season, you can embark on a journey through these tunnels by participating in the Portland Shanghai Tunnel Tour, which delves into the history and folklore of this dark chapter in Portland’s past.
Immerse yourself in Portland’s subterranean history and walk in the footsteps of ghosts and sailors through the city’s Shanghai Tunnels. Learn about Portland’s dark history and hear about the tunnel’s resident ghost, Nina.
Descend into an underworld beneath Portland as you explore these atmospheric tunnels and uncover the stories of how they used to be used to transport unsuspecting sailors to ships docked on the river. After this fascinating journey into the past, you will head back up into the lobby of Portland’s notorious former Merchant Hotel.
Here, you’ll complete your experience with a special beer tasting of award-winning Portland craft beer. Reflect on your adventure while sipping on a delicious full pint and savor the history that lies beneath the charming surface of the “City of Roses.” Don’t miss this unique opportunity to experience the hidden history of Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels.
Hope you enjoyed this article exploring the spooky history of the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon native and explorer at heart. Loves tackling expeditions around the world and drinking a good beer at the end of the day. PNW obsessed, VW nerd, and surf or snow riding fanatic.