Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels

Thousands of able-bodied men were shanghaied up and down the west coast from the 1800s well into the 1900s to provide men to work on ships. Portland, Oregon’s Underground, or Shanghai Tunnels were used for this illegal activity. 

The Shanghai tunnels are a series of underground passageways that run from basement to basement, connecting buildings for 9 miles. They lie beneath Portland’s Old Town and downtown areas.

These tunnels were built by Chinese forced labor and were used when Portland became involved in the trade, in 1850 during the California gold rush. Ships were losing their crews to the gold fields, so sea captains needed the shanghai trade more than ever.

One victim being lifted onboard.
The saloons in the area were willing partners for everyone was paid off. This trade was kept quiet for years. Police officers would not enter the tunnels for they felt they were booby-trapped.

The victims were mostly transients who had no family to miss them. Loggers, cowboys, miners, seamen, and sheepherders--just to name a few--all drifters, would drink or were drugged, and then they were dropped down through trap doors that each bar had installed. Most of these establishments had at least three of these traps.

These doors were named “deadfalls” by the locals. They were called this not because the victims died but because they were now condemned to 3 to 6 years of working for sea captains that did not pay them--so they might as well consider themselves dead.

Portland’s trade was unique for they kept a steady supply of men ready to be sold at a moments notice.

The Portland Underground motto:

“There was always an able-bodied crew waiting for a captain.”

Once the victim dropped through these traps, they hit a mattress where men were waiting to remove their shoes and lock them in the various small cells in the underground. These rooms had little air, and the men were packed in like sardines.

A Dead Fall
Their shoes were removed because the kidnappers had spread broken glass over the tunnel floors. If they tried to escape their captors could just follow the trail of blood to find them.

The Shanghai trade boomed from 1870 until 1917. In these years the Portland Underground shanghaied over 3,000 men. Each kidnapped man was sold to a sea captain for fifty dollars.

In 1941, the Shanghai trade finally ended in Portland.

The Hauntings

There have been many sighting of ghosts in the Shanghai Tunnels.

One area is even considered to have a portal or entrance from the other side. Apparitions are often seen walking through this area.

Visitors have reported feeling a hand placed on their backs or necks.

Lights go on and off, doors open and shut, and footsteps and voices are heard.

Visitors are warned that their cameras will malfunction in the tunnels. Once back up on street level they find their cameras work again. Visitors often report their equipment’s batteries drained.

One story highlighted on Ghost Adventures when they investigated the tunnels mentions a young boy’s ghost. Joshua is believed to be a 9-year old orphan who was hired to empty the chamber pots and buckets in the cells.

People have seen his ghost and he sometimes holds the visitor’s hands.

Another ghost often seen connected to these tunnels in "Nina". I tell her story in my post about haunted Old Town Pizza.

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