Portland Underground visitors will have the chance to go beneath the city streets in the historic Old Town district to explore a world that formerly had a seedy and dastardly reputation. According to popular lore, the history of the Portland Underground includes tales of sailors getting shanghaied, or kidnapped, and dragged through the underground tunnels to be sold as slaves to waiting ships. As the stories go, the brothels and bars in the Old Town district were where many shanghaiing efforts often began, as it is much easier to subdue a drunk person than a sober one.
This shady side of the history of the Portland Underground has little evidence to support it, though it certainly makes for good stories and adds to the ambiance of the Underground tours. Today, this area of town is a great way to get in touch with Portland's history and take in a unique attraction.
The Portland Underground, or the Shanghai Tunnels, as the system of basements and tunnels is also known, isn't only tied to stories of shanghaiing. During Prohibition, the city's saloons moved underground in an attempt to hide their illegal operations. This only helped kidnappers find able-bodied men to sell as slaves, according to legend at least, as the bars and their patrons were already at tunnel level. The history of the Portland Underground also sees the system of basements and tunnels supposedly being used by "white slavers," who kidnapped women to sell into prostitution. In case you are wondering, the people who supposedly kidnapped or shanghaied able-bodied men for work on ships were known as "shanghaiiers" and "crimps."
The Portland Underground gets a lot of attention for its shanghaiing history and its Prohibition-era saloons. Originally, however, the system of tunnels and rooms was used to transport goods between various businesses and the Willamette River waterfront. Most of the businesses were hotels and bars, and the use of the tunnels to transport goods helped keep street traffic down.
Portland Underground tours are available for those who want to explore the system of rooms and tunnels, and they are definitely worth considering when looking for fun and interesting things to do. These tours offer fantastic insight into the history of the Portland Underground. Visitors will not only hear tales of shanghaiing, but also get to inspect holding cells and a restaurant trapdoor that may have been used to drop kidnapping victims into the Underground's unfriendly belly. Also on display in the Portland Underground are various artifacts that offer extra insight into what might have gone on down there in the past.
The Portland Underground tours last approximately an hour and a half on average, and they are not exactly for the faint of heart. They also aren't well suited for those with mobility issues, as there are plenty of moments where you will have to walk through a cramped tunnel and duck under pipes. A few different options are available when it comes to the Portland Underground tours. Some tell tales of the haunted history of Portland, while others go into depth about the roles that Japanese, Chinese, and Gypsy people played during the era when Portland was supposedly a shanghaiing hot spot. Other attractions, such as Voodoo Doughnuts and some interesting Chinese medicine and herb shops, are also highlighted on the tours.
You must arrange Portland Underground tours in advance through the Cascade Geographic Society, and should you be wondering where the starting point is, Hobo's Restaurant in the Old Town Chinatown District is the place. You can find Hobo's Restaurant at 120 N.W. Third Avenue. The Old Town Chinatown District, it is worth noting, is separated from the Pearl District by NW Broadway, and while part of it is found Downtown, W. Burnside essentially cuts most of it off from the Downtown District proper. In other words, it's very easy to find due to the fact that it borders the city's two most popular districts.