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Another Portland Blog

Monday, January 03, 2005

 

Thar' be ghosts in them thar' Shanghai Tunnels

Back in November I took the Shanghai Tunnels tour and had planned on writing a feature on them. Unfortunately, prior to descending down a wooden staircase into a basement filled with abandoned opium dens and torture chambers, I signed a form stating that I would not publish photos or stories from the tunnels in print or on the internet*.

By scribbling the paragraph above and by posting January’s photo of the month, a shot of the tunnels' haunted cigar store enthusiast, I guess I've already made myself susceptible to legal action. If anyone from the Cascades Geographical Society happens upon this I hope they consider it a promotion. While a ticket for the tour runs $15, it's well worth the price to spend an hour getting freaked out in Portland's seamy underbelly. I'd post a link to the society's website but it's no longer up and running.




So while I won't tell the story behind the photos** above or about the "ghost pee" incident, I will toss out this widely circulated anecdote.

But before that, let me give you a little background. If you've never heard of the Shanghai Tunnels, here's a quick rundown on their grim history. They're a series of underground corridors that lead from the city's Chinatown district down to the Willamette River. At the turn-of-the-century, kidnappers used the tunnels, along with a series of trap doors in area bars, to "shanghai" patrons and force them into indentured servitude aboard vessels setting sail for the far east. They're littered with holding cells, opium dens and tiny closets used to break the spirits of women forced into prostitution. Reported to be among the ten most haunted sites in the country, the tunnels are supposedly overflowing with spirits that appear out of nowhere and tug on visitor's hair and jackets.

Among the most notorious of shanghairs was a man named Joseph Bunkle Kelly. According to local lore, one night, two sailors came upon an open door leading to the cellar of The Snug Harbor, a bar that once sat near the Morrison Bridge. Downstairs they found a cache of what they thought were whiskey barrels. With no one around, they began drinking to their hearts' content. As they became more inebriated, they announced their find to passersby and eventually 33 others were chugging the free hooch.

Later that night, Kelly arrived at the scene. He checked the pulse of one freeloader and then took a closer look at what he had been drinking. The barrels didn't belong to the bar upstairs but instead the funeral parlor next door. Instead of whiskey, the crowd had been sucking down embalming fluid.

Undaunted, Kelly and his colleagues sold their corpses. They even charged an inflated price because, after all, it obviously took a hell of lot of effort to get these guys "dead drunk."

For more info click here for a recent CNN article on the tunnels.

-----------------------

* Despite the fact that photos and articles on the subject are widely avaiable online.

** The cigar store indian picture was taken by me. The baby carriage shot was ruthlessly pilfered from the CNN article.

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