The Shanghai tunnels/Portland underground
I learned about the Shanghai tunnels from my husband not too long ago and we have planned to check it out when we got a chance. He had watched a show about them years ago on the history channel and found it to be interesting.
The Shanghai tunnels are located underneath downtown Portland city streets. The portion of the tunnels that we toured are located under Hobo’s Restaurant which is located close to the corner of NW 3rd and Couch. Here is the link to the website about the tours and the Cascade Geographic Society. The tour starts at Hobo’s Restaurant. The tours are all late afternoon/evening on Th, F, and Sa at 430, 630, and 8 PM. We went at 630 PM.
The tour started out by bringing our tickets (purchased online) to Hobo’s restaurant and checking in. We then met in the “courtyard” at the outside, back of the restaurant. This courtyard was interesting-brick, old glass windows, etc.
We then walked out to the street and a portion of the sidewalk was opened up for us to crouch down the stairs into the tunnels. The wooden steps are quite small and steep and you have to crouch to not hit your head on the sidewalk above.
Once we walked down the stairs, it was pitch black and we were all offered flashlights for the tour. It was dark, dusty, etc. As we stopped at each part of the tour we were asked to turn off our flashlights for the full effect of what it would have been like to be kidnapped and trapped down there in the pitch black under the streets of Portland. We walked down a short hall and stopped in an open area where there was a broken chair and pile of bricks and stones. We were told the story of how ropes of tin cans were tied in certain parts of the tunnels to alert the Shanghai-ers to anyone being down there. We then opened a wooden gate to look into an Opium room with a barred window and 3 tiered bunkbed. Apparently, the premium bunk was on the floor so you didn’t have as far of a fall. 🙂
We then walked through an arched hole in the brick wall into the tunnels. We were told that these holes in the wall were indications that we were walking between buildings. This took us into the next room in which there were “artifacts” along the walls. We were shown a trunk of cork boots that had apparently been taken from the Shanghaied men. Their shoes were removed and glass shards were placed on the floor to make it difficult for them to get away and if they did, the trail of blood and limping man could be easily followed on the street. We were told that other tour guide personnel had to follow the tour and remove “artifacts” like these cork boots after we’d viewed them as “artifacts” had been stolen over the years on the tours.
We were told that not only Shanghai-ers, but also White slavers had used these tunnels. Apparently the White slavers were white men who kidnapped women from other cities (San Francisco, New York, etc.) and brought them here to entice men. The story goes that women were also taken to other cities so even if they did get away they wouldn’t have any escape route as they wouldn’t know anyone in that city. Apparently, the Shanghaied men were away from Portland for 3-6 years and who knows about the women. We were shown a hole in the wall just large enough for a bed in which men were lured down to pay for and engage in sex. Apparently, lines formed out onto the street and the restaurant owners told the men that there were women upstairs in the restaurant as well. It was apparently a booming business for the restaurant owners and the Shanghai-ers.
We were then taken to a small room (outhouse size, really) with a single chair in which women were locked up and “broken down” so they wouldn’t try to escape later. It apparently took 24-48 hours to break each woman down. Apparently, neither men nor women made any noise to try to be rescued as the restaurant workers were paid to not hear anything.
We were then taken through a hallway and told that they used to have to crawl through this hallway and now we could walk through with the exception of crouching under all of the pipes throughout. This led us into the final room and we were shown a trap door in which men standing at the bar were dropped into and never seen again. Apparently, 1-3 men were dropped at a time and sometimes even 6. The trap door was quite loud when it was released and a dummy man fell onto a mattress on the floor.
We were then shown a large (wooden?) statue of an Indian and told the tale that one clever Shanghai-er convinced a ship captain that this particular man was not just drunk and knocked out, but “dead drunk” and to not bother him until they’d gotten far enough along the river that he couldn’t escape. Once they unrolled him from whatever burlap that he’d been rolled in, they discovered that it was a statue from the cigar shop and they threw it in the river. It was apparently washed to shore and discovered in Astoria, OR.
The last part of what we were shown in this room was the holding cell for Shanghaied men. The bars on the brick walls were placed close together and “bladed” or flat making it difficult for the strong men they were kidnapping to break through. We were encouraged to place our fingers through the bars to experience that we can only place them up to our knuckles and can’t get our fingers around the bars.
We were disappointed that the area that we toured was quite short and that there were a lot of ghost stories shared that didn’t interest us. Unfortunately, we were outnumbered at the start of the tour by those that wanted to hear the ghost stories. 😦 We were just interested in the history of the tunnels. The area that we toured could have been self toured in about 30 minutes and likely encompassed only beneath 4 buildings in downtown Portland. We don’t know if the rest of the tunnel was off limits or has been filled in by the city or what, but it was disappointing to be so short.
There were some interesting “historical” tidbits shared, however, we don’t know how valid they are and much of it was unsubstantiated ghost stories. For example, a door that spontaneously opens and closes. (It didn’t during our tour) For all we know, the tour personnel that followed the tour rounding up “artifacts” could have opened or closed the door or it could be explained by properties of wood or metal that we’re not privy to.
Here are a few YouTube video links that I found that provide many interesting comments and views about the tour.
Shanghai’d from 2006 (3:38)
Portland Underground from 2009 (6:41)
Shanghai Tunnels from 2010 (4:43) There were a lot of similar views and comments as our tour.
One of the local Portland news channels reported in a 10.7.07 article that supports some of our concerns about the historical “facts” and “artifacts” from this tour. It was still an interesting experience.
Check out the tour for yourself and see what you think!