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Underground: Shanghai Tunnels
One of the best
opportunities to learn about the illegal practice of shanghaiing in the
West is in Portland,
Oregon. If youíve ever heard Portland
referred to as the Forbidden City of the West and wondered why, a visit to
the Shanghai Tunnels could clear things up for you. Then again, it could
just raise more questions about a legend that persisted for over 150
If you arenít familiar
with shanghaiing, it refers to the capture and illegal sale of able-bodied
men to sea captains in need of crewmen. Unscrupulous (to say the least)
middlemen kidnapped men and sold them off to captains for as little as $50
a head. These poor men were then forced to work on ships bound for the
Orient with no pay. According to legend as well as some historical data,
men were shanghaied in Portland from roughly 1850 to 1941. Things were
supposedly at their worst during Prohibition.
almost sounds too bizarre and horrific to be little more than a myth or
legend, but shanghaiing did take place. It was a practice that occurred in
Portland as well as other locations along the West Coast. What is
questioned is the means by which it was carried out in Portland, and the
relationship if any between the Portland Underground and shanghai
Shanghai Tunnels or Portland Underground consist of tunnel passages
linking Portlandís Old Town (Chinatown) to the central downtown area of
Portland. The basements of many downtown bars and hotels were linked to
the Willamette River waterfront through the tunnels, allowing supplies to
be moved from ships docked there directly to basements for storage.
Although many residents used to doubt it was true, the catacombs snaking
beneath the city do in fact exist.
the mid-19th century, stories have been told about shanghai practices in
Portland. Not only men but women, too were warned to take care against
being drugged or kidnapped and hauled off for sale. Women were allegedly
shanghaied for use as prostitutes rather than shipís laborers. Although
other ports along the West Coast including San Francisco are said to have
been centers of shanghai activity, Portlandís underground tunnels are
claimed to have made the practice much more manageable and wide-spread
than in other areas.
According to those theories, victims were either drugged, kidnapped while
intoxicated or simply knocked out, then dropped or dragged into the
tunnels through trapdoors called deadfalls. Once in the tunnels, they were
locked in specially designed prison cells and held captive until they were
shipped off as slave laborers.
During Prohibition, it is said that bars moved their operations
underground, as well, making it easier than ever for unsuspecting victims
to be shanghaied. Some researchers estimate that as many as 1,500 people
a year were shanghaied through Portlandís Underground. Entire scenarios
about the practices and experiences of the shanghaied in the tunnels have
been created and elaborated on over the years.
catacombs beneath Portland do exist and the stories almost sound
plausible, but is the legend true? What evidence exists to support the
allegations that these tunnels were used for shanghaiing? Is there any
evidence at all?
can take a tour aimed at demonstrating the validity of the Shanghai legend
and decide for yourself, but so far the evidence does appear to be scanty
to say the least. You can imagine that what is there, could have been
created any time rather than during the 19th century. The persistent oral
history of the legends is somewhat convincing, but remember historians
donít doubt shanghaiing took place in port cities of the West, including
Portland. What they doubt is the connection between the tunnels, the
basements of hotels and bars, and the kidnapping.
is no historical record or evidence of shanghaiing being practiced in the
tunnels from the time period it is said to have taken place. In fact, the
earliest mention of a connection between the practice of Shanghaiing and
the tunnels dates from the 1970s. Historians assert that even in the event
of a massive cover-up effort, it is unlikely there would be no evidence of
the practice whatsoever from the era when it was supposedly at its peak.
Evidence may finally be forthcoming, and if it is as convincing as
promised, it could settle the question about Portlandís Underground once
and for all. Michael P. Jones is the founder of a group offering tours of
Portlandís Underground and is a proponent of the Shanghai Tunnel theory.
He claims to have obtained undisputable evidence of the practice that will
be revealed in a forthcoming book. The evidence supposedly consists of
documents, photos and other proof of Shanghai activity.
the book is released or other proof surfaces, the legend of Portlandís
Shanghai Tunnels remains just that Ė a myth individuals must decide about
for themselves. Being able to explore the legend and form your own opinion
is of course what makes the Shanghai Tunnels so appealing. If proof
finally does come out confirming the story, itís doubtful it will make the
legend any more or less interesting than it already is.
question that will probably come to mind on your visit to Portlandís
Tunnels may haunt you more than what you believe you see. If history
already confirms that shanghaiing took place in Portland, why on earth
wouldnít the tunnels have been used as a means of transporting the
Below the city, photo courtesy
Mellema, March, 2008
About the Author:
Mellema is a freelance writer living in
Texas. She loves to
travel and is always planning a trip, whether it be a weekend in Dallas, a
week in Spain, or a relaxing cruise.
Words You Want, provides a variety of writing services including
article writing, eBook writing and other writing services on a wide
variety of topics. She also has the opportunity to write for a variety of
different web sites and clients, such as
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