Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels

Beneath the hip green streets of Portland lie a dark and creepy past.  An intricate series of tunnels connect the buildings of the city to the nearby port.  In the past, these tunnels have been used for all sorts of shady things, the most infamous of which was shanghai-ing.

The term “shanghai” refers to the terrible practice of kidnapping people, sticking them on a boat, then launching the boat out to sea.  Once the boat is in the middle of the ocean, the people on board have no choice but to work, so they become the boat’s crew.  The working conditions on these ships were so miserable and horrendous that they couldn’t find ANYONE to work, so they had to shanghai people instead.  Often, the shanghaiers would find guys who were down on their luck, and offer to buy them a drink.  They would then buy them another drink, and another one and another one, and slip something into one of those drinks along the way.  When the unsuspecting vagabond eventually passed out, they were dropped through a trap door into the network of tunnels below, then shuttled away to the water where a ship’s captain would pay a respectable sum for the snoring sot.

There were a lot of other things that happened in these tunnels over time, none of them upstanding.  Our guide informed us that another name for shanghai-ing is “crimping”, and that the shanghaier in that case is called the “crimp”.  You learn something new every day.

I found out about the tunnels from watching Ghost Adventures (yes, I am a complete nerd.)  So aside from the fantastic history of the tunnels, I was also really hoping to see some ghosties.  We made our descent into the brick dungeons through an old stairway in a restaurant called Old Town Pizza.  I snapped pictures the whole time, because the guide told us that a lot of people had gotten some pretty crazy results from doing that.  While I didn’t see any ghosts, the whole place had the creepiest feel to it.  I can hardly imagine working and moving around in these places all the time, much less getting whisked away into one through a trap door against your will.

It was really neat to see this “not so mainstream” side of Portland’s history, and so intriguing to think that so much has happened here, right where I was standing.  I wish I had seen some ghosties though…

After the tour, we ate lunch with my aunt, uncle and cousin (who also went on the tour with us) at Old Town Pizza itself.  They had a mean slice of Pesto.  We are moving on to Seattle tomorrow, where we’ll be staying with my Aunt Tracy.  Loving this trip!

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1 Comment

  1. Love hearing about these off beat tours. Your relatives sure are well-placed for your route! Safe travels.

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