Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels

Photo of the Shanghai Tunnels in Portland, Oregon. Photo used under the Creative Commons License via Wikimedia.org.

Photo of the Shanghai Tunnels in Portland, Oregon. Photo used under the Creative Commons License via Wikimedia.org.

Gabby Nicholson, Staff Writer

The Shanghai Tunnels are located in Portland, Oregon. The tunnels are underneath Old Town China Town (Portland’s original downtown). Local Lure has it that they run to the waterfront with interconnected basements, makeshift rooms and low-ceilinged tunnels. Which made it easy to sneak illegal goods and people between ship and shore. People say the tunnels were used as secret passageways to underground brothels, opium dens, and gambling houses. Or even as temporary prisons for kidnapped men and women.

They called them Shanghai tunnels because there was this thing called Shanghaiing or crimping which is the practice of kidnapping men and selling them as slaves for captains in need of crew. It was pretty common during Portland’s heyday. In the tunnels victims were either drugged, kidnapped while intoxicated, or simply knocked unconscious. Then they were either dragged or dropped in the tunnels through trap doors called deadfalls, which could be found in pretty much all bars and saloons.

Its a terrifying legend, with stories of forced prostitution, murder, ruined lives and a underground catacomb. They don’t know if the evidence is fully true since the tunnels are either inaccessible or are collapsed. There was little to no archaeological evidence that exists to support the stories. The evidence that the tour provides us with as ¨real artifacts¨ could have been easily bought at a thrift store.

There are still tours even though the tunnels are no longer accessible. Each tour starts with an above ground stroll, as well as a history lesson of the area before you go into the dust below street level. But the tour only goes as far as the musty brick-laden basement beneath their starting points.
It was estimated that 2,000 people a year were through the tunnels. A lot of people claimed that they have heard disembodied screams and groans. Also people that have been in the tunnels claim that they have felt the eerie sensation that someone was standing behind them, even seeing a ghost appear, one in particular, who goes by Nina.

Work Cited
Seaman, Maya. “Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels.” The Official Guide to Portland, Travel Portland, 31 Aug. 2021, www.travelportland.com/attractions/portland-shanghai-tunnels/.