Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Shanghai Tunnels

Author: Ridge Phelps

Along the Willamette River in Portland Oregon, in the recesses of Chinatown lie the Shanghai Tunnels.  Built around 1850 and thriving till 1941 the Shanghai tunnels stands as a modern marvel to both the genius engineering and sinister plot that it would befall. Originally built for the fast travel of purchased goods from the docks the tunnels allowed for hotel and brothel owner to avoid not only customs, taxes but also traffic that crowed the streets of Portland at the time. Built by the Chinese gangs or tongs the tunnels also served as a gambling den and escape route via trap doors and alleyway exits. Years pass and the tunnels go unchecked due to “special police” who of course have been paid to keep their noses out of tong business.
Known as the north end underworld these tunnels would remain unchecked until the 1980’s. When police officers finally brought in sledge hammers and began cracking down walls in pursuit of illegal activity. In 1913 the city council created the secret passages ordinance.  Introduced by Mayor Albee and passed unanimously the ordinance made it illegal for anyone to own or maintain trap doors or other contrivances (Oregonian)

During the 1850’s to 1920’s an illegal practice was also performed within the Shanghai Tunnels. Shanghaiing is nautical term which is defined as: to enroll or obtain (a sailor) for the crew of a ship by unscrupulous means, as by force or the use of liquor and drugs (Webster). The reason this was called shanghaiing and not Impressment (the same thing really) is due to the fact that these men were not being recruited for the Royal Navy of Great Brittan for the purpose of manning warships.  They were taken for the purpose of being free slaves on clipper ships. The men taken hostage or shanghaied were white men who were generally hobos or the low lives of Portland.  Seen for years by the public of Portland as a public service Crimps (men who worked in boarding houses, pubs, bars, brothels and other inns or hotels used drugs or whatever means necessary to get “bodies” on ships) or “boarding masters” as they liked to be called would often wait inside local inns and areas where sailors from foreign or native ships would come to “unwind”. Waiting for hours until the sailor was good and drunk off booze known as gutrot (the lowest grade of alcohol a man could purchase roughly about 2 pennies at the time: remember to account for inflated rates for sailors, as the boarding houses and inns knew sailors would pay the high prices just  for one drink.).  


Works Cited
“SECRET PASSAGES BARRED.”  Oregon News. Historic Oregonian Newspapers. N.D. Web. 14 Oct 2013
Dankers, Clarice. “Shanghaied in Portland.” Story mentor. Word Press. 2012. Web. 15 Oct 2013.
Blalock, Barney-Athanasius. “The Portland Waterfront History Blog.” Portland Waterfront. Blogger. 21 Feb 2013. Web. 6 Oct 2013.
Finn J.D John. “the Mysterious Portland Shanghaiing Scene:” Wicked-Portland. The History Press. 7 Aug 2012. Web. 7 Oct 2013.
“The History of Clipper Ships.” Think Quest. Oracle Think Quest. N.D. Web. 13 Oct 2013.
Blalock, Barney-Athanasius. “The Shanghai Dock in Black and White.” Portland Waterfront. Blogger. 15 mar 2013. Web. 18 Oct 2013

Links for further research

Portland Waterfront
Goes more in depth about the secrets of the Shanghai Tunnels
Shanghai Tunnels
The dark secrets of Portland’s past
Haunted Portland

History of hauntings for the Shanghai Tunnels