Portland’s Darkest Secrets

Garrett Bolen, Staff Reporter

Portland is one of the greatest cities on the West Coast, yet it holds some of the darkest, spine-chilling secrets that lay right beneath our feet. The Portland Underground, or better known as the legendary Shanghai Tunnels, are abandoned human trafficking tunnels that connect to the basements of old buildings throughout the city.

Located underneath Old Town Chinatown, the Shanghai Tunnels are some of the most infamous landmarks across the West Coast. During the 1850s to the 1940s, a common practice known as “shanghaiing” became quite popular in Portland. The term “shanghaiing” refers to the act of kidnapping someone and hauling them onto a ship bound for Asia. According to shanghaitunnels.info, people who were kidnapped  would be sold to the captains for as little as $50 per person. After they were sold, they would essentially be slaves aboard ships sailing to Asia.

The events that took place inside the tunnels were absolutely horrific. People would be drugged or simply knocked out, and dragged into the tunnels through trapdoors known as “dead falls.” Once there, they would be locked up in prison cells until a ship would arrive to take them away. Legend says that the spirits of these prisoners roam the tunnels to this day, and that the Shanghai Tunnels are some of the most haunted landmarks in Oregon. As more and more people went missing, the citizens of Portland were told to be wary of people who may want to kidnap them.

According to legendsofamerica.com, shanghaiing was especially common during prohibition. Because alcohol was illegal, bars would move their operations underground, making it incredibly easy to shanghai intoxicated customers. It is estimated that over 1,500 people were shanghaied through the Portland Underground every year. Shanghaiing was so unbelievably common in Portland that it earned it the nickname “the Forbidden City.”

The criminals that kidnapped and sold citizens of Portland were known as “crimps.” Crimps essentially ran most parts of Portland, including an area known as “Sucker,” which would later be known as the city of Lake Oswego.

Fortunately, shanghaiing is long gone is Portland, but the tunnels are still very much alive. There are two different companies that do tours of the tunnels: The Cascade Historical Society and the Portland Walking Tours.

The Cascade Historical Society has three different types of tours available upon request, and require prepayment. Their first and main tour they do is the Shanghai Tunnels Heritage tour. On this tour, they tell stories of the Shanghai trade in Portland and go over the history of the Shanghai Tunnels. Another tour they offer is the Shanghai Tunnels Ghost Tour. As you may have guessed, they cover the paranormal aspects of the tunnels and account for specific spirits that haunt them. Their last tour is the Shanghai Tunnels Ethnic History Tour. During this tour, they go over stories of the Chinese, Japanese, and Gypsies and how they relate to the illegal activities that took place in the Shanghai Tunnels. These tours cost $13 for adults and $8 for children under twelve, and start outside of the Hobo’s Restaurant. The time of the tour is worked out during the payment.

The Portland Walking Tour only does one tour, but it goes into more detail for a higher price. On this tour of Portland’s sinister past, they expose the myths of the Shanghai Tunnels and the horrific events that took place inside of them. Starting outside of Old Town Pizza in Chinatown, the tour costs $20 for adults and $17 for seniors/youth. These tours run daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.