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Shanghai Tunnels – Explore Portland’s Criminal Past


By PDX People

PORTLAND, Ore. – Even though it’s a busy, vibrant city today, Portland Oregon was once known as the “Forbidden City of the West”. Why? For close to 100 years Portland was a city where a lot of criminal activity occurred and many of the criminal enterprises that existed in the city from 1850 through the 1940’s used the Shanghai Tunnels to move around underground, unnoticed by the authorities.

Getting To Know the Shanghai Tunnels

Connected by a series of basements in hotels and bars in Portland, the Shanghai tunnels gave criminals the ability to move bootleg alcohol, weapons, and illicit cargo that was shipped in from other countries.

Although the tunnels were originally created for legitimate purposes like keeping a ship’s supplies and cargo out of the rain and away from the heavy Portland traffic but the Shanghai Tunnels quickly became the route of choice for any criminal who was looking to move items in or out of the city without being noticed.

Sadly, the tunnels were also used for kidnapping able-bodied men who were then forced to serve as crew on ships that were coming in and out of Portland on a daily basis. This is where the well-known phrase “shanghaiing” comes into play and it didn’t just apply to men, Portland’s criminals also captured women as well who were eventually sold off as slaves.

Bringing the Shanghai Tunnels Back To Life

In 2016 the Shanghai tunnels still exist in books and movies but more sections of the tunnels are being found every day, especially by public works employees who run into them while working on various underground projects in the city.

Today there are small sections of the tunnels that are available for touring thanks to the Cascade Geographic Society who conducts regular tours of the existing portions of the tunnels. These tours are held every Friday and Saturday evening. To learn more click here.



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