Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shanghai Surprise: Portland's Sinister Past Unearthed

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Portland, OR was that city's famous "Shanghai Tunnels", also known as the Portland Underground. This complex labyrinth of interconnecting rooms and passages was once a hot bed of opium dens, illegal gambling, prostitution, and other nefarious dealings. However, the most famous story associated with these underground spaces is the art of Shanghaiing.

Despite it's exotic-sounding sobriquet, getting Shanghaied was nothing a man wanted to go through. Poor souls who walked into the wrong bar (which seemed to be all of them at one point) might find themselves drugged, attacked, or even dropped through trap doors into the warren below. Once unconscious, the men would be loaded aboard ships as slave labor. With only two options: work or die. One couldn't exactly escape when in the middle of the Pacific.

Cities on both coasts had such tunnels (and even landlocked ones as well), but Portland's are perhaps the most famous. While once an extensive network of underground spaces, much of it has been destroyed, filled in, re-purposed, or otherwise cutoff so that only a small portion has been recovered as a testament to this lost history.

The guide who showed us through these rooms was also a paranormal investigator. He informed us of several spirits that wander lost in the places below. Among the ghosts that haunt the place are that of a prostitute named Nina and a notorious criminal and Shanghaier named Joseph "Bunco" Kelly. Other unknown spirits--likely those of the men and women who died there--flit about the shadows as well.

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