Through a metal access hatch in front of Hobo’s Restaurant in Portland, we descended into the underground tunnels via wooden staircase.
Locally the tunnels are often called Shanghai Tunnels, because of the shanghaiing —an illegal maritime practice in which able-bodied men were abducted and sold to sea captains as free labor— that took place in the area.
Portland’s network of tunnels stretched for several miles, but the area open to visitors is quite small.
As is so often the case, Portland tried to cover its history of vice. The tunnels were filled in with dirt and rubble, and in time stories started to spread that the tunnels were used to bring goods into the buildings.
However, the Cascade Geographic Society’s research has shown that these tunnels were used for many other, more dangerous, practices.
Men were drugged or encouraged to drink too much, so they would pass out, and would be sold into slavery. Women were abducted and sold into prostitution, and for some time the tunnels were used to house opium dens.
Not quite the romantic history the city wants its inhabitants to know about.
When you first enter the tunnel there are display cases with some of the archaeological finds that were discovered when the CGS started digging out the tunnels.
A large door opens up to take visitors into a replica of an opium den. A three-tier bunk bed stands on one side of the room, a set of stairs leads into the area and a bucket is buried underground.
The beds would’ve been for the drugged customers to lie down as they went on their opium-fueled dreams and the bucket would be the safest place for the proprietor to hide his valuables.
Cans were strung up just outside the door to serve as an alarm for unwanted visitors, such as police officers.
The area was also home to a trap door that would’ve allowed bars to simply dump drunk customers into the tunnels.
Several “windows” still remained in the area. Now I’m using the word window quite liberally, as it was very dark and it was simply a hole in the walls with metal bars.
The outlines of holding cells remained, as well as some items left behind by former captives.
We went on the tour because the tunnels are said to be haunted, with many people experiencing interactions that cannot be explained.
As a big fan of Halloween it becomes harder and harder to scare my kids each year and I was hoping this would do the trick, but it did nearly the opposite.
My daughter was so intrigued by all the history and stories that she was consistently in the front of the line and asking the tour guide questions about the history, the supposed hauntings and the future of the tunnels.
It ended up being very informational to her, while for me it was a bit underwhelming. Perhaps reading everything I could about the tunnels prior to the visit was not the way to approach this tour.
Having been to underground tunnels before, this one was contained to a very small area, and the stories were bigger and better than the actual remnants left of the tunnel.