Photo / Laura Schulte
chambers provide a creepy background for
tales of Portland's shady past as a center
for the Shanghai slave trade.
Shanghai Tunnels of Portland
Tours depart from Hobo's Restaurant,
120 NW Third Ave.
Every Friday and Saturday night. Visits
other nights can be arranged for groups.
for adults. Children under 12 are $7 (but
the 90-minute program may be too much for
most young children's attention spans.
FOR MORE INFO: Call 503-622-4798
to learn more.
TIP: For the full experience, down a
drink before the tour at Hobo's Bar, which
was known as the Lasso Saloon in Shanghaiing
days. Just make sure you are standing on
solid ground before you take a drink.
Tunnel Tour Sheds Light on Portland's Shady Past
ago a curious 7-year-old named Michael Jones followed an old-timer
into the depths of one of Portland's residential hotels. Captain
Grumpy, as Jones called him, was sick of the child's relentless
questions about the old days. There in the dim light, Jones saw
the answer to one of his questions for himself:
the Shanghai Tunnels of Portland existed.
Jones is nearly half a century older but still fascinated with the
history lesson he learned in the basements of Old Town/Chinatown.
Combining oral histories with archeological evidence, Jones has
pieced together the buried stories of Portland's early days. Now
he shares what he has found with interested visitors on his "Portland
are the tunnels like? On a recent Friday evening, Jones leads 20
visitors along NW 2nd Avenue to a conspicuous door in the wall of
a brick building. As all wait anxiously Jones slowly unlocks the
door to reveal a long, steep flight of stairs leading down into
the dark cellar of the former Old North End Hotel. With flashlights
on, the group descends the stairs and plunges into the 1870s.
enjoying the intrigue, Jones describes what they would have found
had they had suffered the misfortune of entering this cellar in
the Victorian era. Back then, he says, ship captains from around
the world put into Portland looking for fresh crews. A handful of
crooked middlemen serviced the ships by drugging pubgoers upstairs,
dropping them through the floor, carting them through tunnels out
to the waterfront, then selling them to captains at $50 a head.
In the parlance of the time, this was called being "Shanghaied."
a reconstructed trapdoor, Jones demonstrates how quickly a drinking
buddy could disappear from his place at the bar, and land below.
Jones says "If you were standing in the right place at the wrong
time, you could be on a ship bound for China and not make it back
for three to six years."
enjoys the look of shock on many tour participants' faces. As his
brochure states, the tour is, after all, "Educational, intriguing,
shocking, yet entertaining." But his well-rehearsed shtick is based
on some serious research.
tours grew out of archeological digging which he started seven years
ago. "I had no intention of doing tours. I was just digging for
historical information. But, then people kept asking if they could
see what we were finding."
has a talent for making people see more than they would usually notice.
Trapdoors, tunnels openings, holding cells with bars, doors with locks
to keep people in rather than out - it is all to be found if only
people will look. And listen.
/ Laura Schulte
Following in the footsteps of countless
unsuspecting victims who were drugged, captured
and sold as crew members to ships bound
for China, Underground Tunnel Tour participants
descend from sunny downtown streets to darkness
on a historical dig is not instant. We hit dead ends sometimes,"
says Jones. "I listen to oral histories and break through by following
history is an integral part of his Jones's work. According to his
sources, eccentric characters filled these dark passages, from missionaries
fighting for the souls of drunken seamen to unscrupulous white slave
traders who would just as soon sell a dead man as a live one.
you gather history, folklore comes with it. I collect stories when
I collect history," says Jones. He fills in the shadows of Portland's
underground with the descriptions of opium dens, police raids, brothels
and rollicking bars that were passed on to him by many folks who
have since passed on themselves.
you are enjoy learning about the obscure or just like something
a little out of the ordinary, the underground tours are great fun.
And after seeing the subterranean world through Jones's eyes, you
may start looking at your grandmother's basement a little differently.
article originally appeared in the Northwest Examiner. Laura
Schulte is a free-lance writer based in Portland.