But beware – under the lush façade of the City of Roses lies chilling reminders of the city’s sordid past. Move with caution and be sure to bring along a friend.
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Shanghai Tunnels – Downtown Portland
Below the busy Hobo’s Restaurant in the heart of Old Town Portland lays a dark, sinister world from another time period. A maze of tunnels snake their way underground in this place near the Willamette River where the dreary fates of many men and women began or ended for over 90 years. Dark, hot, damp, and maybe even haunted.
Beginning around 1850 and ending in the 1940’s the Shanghai Tunnels of Portland were notorious for holding unsuspecting victims to be sold to sea captains in need of a crew. Kidnapped from local bars, bordellos, gambling parlors or opium dens, men were literally dropped through trap doors while downing a brew or laughing with friends into the dark tunnels of the city.
And for $50 a head these drugged and beaten men were sold to sea captains for long voyages they did not sign up for and most were never seen again.
Men were not the only captives in these tunnels. Women who had been snatched off the streets were kept in the tunnels to be sold into white slavery or prostitution. Once sold, these women were never seen or heard from either.
The Underground Tunnel Tour starts at Hobo’s Restaurant with tour guide and long-time tunnel historian Michael Jones leading the group outside to a metal door in the brick wall.
With flashlights in hand, the tour-goers head down a steep wood staircase into the oppressive darkness below where Jones begins to describe the life, and frequently death of those shanghaied into service.
Many people died in these tunnels from being hit over the head too hard, an overdose of knockout drugs or from staying in the claustrophobic cells too long. Over 35 men died from drinking what they thought was whisky but ended up being embalming fluid.
And many a young woman brought down into the tunnels to be sold lost babies at the hands of these unscrupulous men who sold the children as well. Several visitors to the tunnels have claimed to see a woman by an abandoned baby carriage, crying for her lost child.
As the sound of joyous laughter drifts down from up above in Hobo’s, known as the Lasso Saloon in shanghaiing days, Jones reveals one of the many trap doors from above that many an unsuspecting victim fell through to begin his journey of doom. Visitors to the tunnels leave with a deeper understanding of Portland’s once seamy past.
In 1949, 15 year-old Thelma Taylor was abducted at a bus stop by a drifter named Morris and taken under the St. Johns Bridge in an area known at Cathedral Park. There she was bound and raped and held for a week before dying. Morris was eventually caught and executed for her death but Thelma’s suffering didn’t end there.
For many years screams could be heard late at night in the area and police were sent many times to check on the area only to find no one there. Police have not been called out to that area for over five years now, but the eerie silence speaks volumes.
Some feel paranormal activity still lurks under and around the bridge. Many attribute it to the fact that Portland, as a city with many bridges, has experienced a number of suicides over the years and the lost souls are still looking for peace.
Cathedral Park is located at N. Edison Street and Pittsburgh Avenue in Portland.
White Eagle Tavern
Goosebumps abound as you enter the once wild and dangerous White Eagle Tavern, now owned by McMenamin’s, a regional restaurant chain. This old brick building located near the Willamette River was built in 1905 and housed a busy tavern, brothel, and opium den where lives were ruined and many times brutally taken from the many women who worked there. The tavern was aptly nicknamed “Bucket of Blood” in its early years for the many fierce brawls that erupted there.
The main floor houses the bar where live music is enjoyed nightly. Employees and patrons alike have experienced poltergeist activity, such as chairs moving across the floor or coins materializing onto the bar from nowhere.
Items such as mops and brooms have been seen hurling through the air, thrown by unseen hands. A figure has been seen walking down the corridor to the men’s bathroom, but when investigated no one is there.
Prostitution prevailed in the basement and second floor of the tavern. The basement housed Asian and Black women who had been bought or forced into prostitution, some never seeing the light of day once they were dragged down into the dingy basement. Babies born to these women were whisked away, probably sold to the highest bidder.
An opium den is also said to have existed here. Psychics who have visited the basement feel a strong sense of violence and death. The steps leading down to the basement have been a hot spot of activity. Brooms and mops have been seen hovering unaided on this spot and one employee felt hands push her, sending her flying down the stairs.
The second floor housed the white prostitutes in the 13 rooms that gave visitors more privacy than the basement. Although this area had been locked to the public until recently, noises could be heard up there and the smell of perfume would drift down from above.
A face was seen peering out of the upstairs window even though no one was there. Now the upstairs is open to the public with eleven rooms available for overnight guests. But beware; you may not be sleeping alone if you spend the night there.
The most famous ghost is that of a white prostitute named Rose who was murdered upstairs by the brothel manager in a jealous rage in 1926. She has been heard crying in desperation as she wanders the rooms and hallways.
An apparition has been seen many times but vanishes into nowhere. Sam, another tavern ghost is believed to be the face seen in the window. He lived in the rooms upstairs for many years and died there in 1955. His spirit doesn’t seem in any rush to leave.
The White Eagle Tavern is located at 836 North Russell Street in Portland.
Portland has a rich haunted past with many interesting sites to visit for a good scare. Tour the tunnels, picnic near the Cathedral Bridge or lift a brew and listen to music at the White Eagle Tavern. Perhaps you, too, will become a believer in ghosts.