The Shanghai Tunnels
Beneath the bustling city streets, there is a network of tunnels known as “Underground Portland.” They are famously better known as Portland Shanghai Tunnels.
The network of tunnels connects the city’s present day Portland China Town (also known as “Portland Old Town” to Portland’s central business district. They were used from 1850 to as late as 1941. Back then, those in the know did not refer to Portland as the Rose City – it was known as the “forbidden city.” The name Shanghai Tunnels comes from the use of the interconnected basements of buildings to move sailors that were Shanghaied from Old Town to the river.
Being Shanghaied refers to a sailor being captured and sold to a boat captain to become part of the captain’s ship’s crew. Usually, fit and able-bodied seaman were the victims. The cost of these seamen to a ship was $50 per head. The ships usually were bound for the Orient. While on board, these seamen received no wages and were worked hard. Portland was the Forbidden City as so many men were Shanghaied there. Women were often victimized too. They were sold into prostitution. Many claim that the peak of the practice was reached during the era of Prohibition.
Portland’s bars moved to the underground rooms beneath the city, making it easy to kidnap men and women and then sell them as seamen or sex workers. If true the practice was horrible. Historian’s agree that Portland was the site of Shanghaiing. However, there is a question if the tunnels use in Shanghaiing if truth or legend.
There are Portland underground tours available to visit the Shanghai Tunnels below Portland. The tour is guided and takes you through the unique architecture of the tunnels. The tunnels are not just a means traveling beneath the streets. They contain holding cells, a “dead-fall” trapdoor and many artifacts dating back to the era of Shanghaiing. Although historians do acknowledge that the City of Portland was a hot-bed of Shanghaiing conducted by people known as “crimps” as well as place where white slavers played a prominent role in forced recruiting of women for prostitution, there is no hard proof of the role played by the tunnels in these activities. That the tunnels exist is indisputable. But were whether they were used for transporting kidnap victims or other uses such as moving goods to stores and bars remains uncertain.
Decide for yourself. A guided tour conducted by the Cascade Geographic Society lasts for about one and one half hours. The society supports the position that Portland Underground was indeed used for transporting kidnapped victims. And the founder will soon be releasing a book supporting this view. The tour itself asks more questions than it answers, the big one being: with Portland’s Shanghaiing history being a well-documented historical fact, why wouldn’t crimps and white slavers have used the Shanghai tunnels for transporting their victims in such a superb, subterranean way, what were the obvious holding cells used for?