Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels

More From Portland More From Oregon

Many Spirits who were victims of vicious treatment are stuck here.

People killed in Speakeasy violence still relive it.

A brave sex slave is very active in her old stomping grounds…



The Shanghai tunnels are/were a series of catacombs and tunnels that wind around on one level down from the streets that run from the North end of Portland; historic downtown area, Skidmore fountain, China town, to the south end of town; with tunnels that led to the riverfront, providing opportunities for lucrative business ventures. They were connected to the basements of many dance halls, saloons & brothels; The White Eagle Saloon & Brothel, gambling parlors, as well as to a few hotels; (The Merchant Hotel) that offered the services of providing sensual pleasure via a sex slave/prostitute.

As suburb coastal cities sprang up around Portland, along with underground tunnels, so did the empire of the thugs who ran their despicable ventures for profit, causing horrible, life-changing consequences for the people they preyed upon.

Many of the tunnels and catacombs have collapsed, but some have been renovated and preserved, like the ones around Hobos Restaurant, and in front of The Old Town Pizza shop in Chinatown area, that used to be the lobby of The Merchant Hotel.


To explore the tunnels, you must join a tour with a guide.

Two groups offer tours: The Cascade Historical Society and the The Portland Walking Tours:

Beginning at Hobos Restaurant, the Cascade Historical Society offers three kinds of tours, upon request, and prepayment:

1) The Shanghai Tunnels Heritage Tour – This is the main tour given, and gives information about the history of the shanghai trade in Portland. They offer evening tours, but will schedule a day-time tour if enough people sign up for a private group.

2) The Shanghai Tunnels Ghost Tour – Gives accounts of the spirits still working or imprisoned here.

3) Shanghai Tunnel Ethnic History Tour – How the historical stories of the Chinese, the Japanese and the Gypsies relate to the vice activities that long took place in the Portland underground community.

The Portland Walking Tour begins just outside of The Old Town Pizza, located at at 226 NW Davis St, Portland, OR 97209 (between second & 3rd Avenues) in Old Town/Chinatown. The Portland Walking Tour offers a TOUR at a higher price, yet a more detailed tour of the tunnels; “We walk through the remains of the physical underground as well as exploring the underground subcultures, political underground and immoral underground of the city’s sordid history, and expose the myths behind the legends of the so-called “Shanghai Tunnels.”

Their tours are offered twice a day, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; at 11 and 2 pm.

Their tour is rated PG 13, as they proclaim, “This walk is a treat for lovers of all things sinister – crime, scandal and controversial characters – a no-holds-barred excursion into the worst Portland has to offer. We delve into dozens of other somber monuments to the shameful past of sex, ethnic crimes, gambling, corruption, and more.”



Many cities in the United States, such as Seattle, Sacramento, Prescott, and Butte, wound up with underground tunnels/spaces under the streets of their original downtown areas. Seattle found out in the first attempt at building a city, that the elevation was too low, because the city was flooded out every year. So, they simply built another city on top of the original one. Prescott and Butte wanted underground connections between buildings for convenience, and such cities as Savannah and Portland wanted tunnels underground to deliver supplies from the ships in their harbors. Human nature being what it was/is, other not so nice uses were found for these underground tunnels and spaces, having to do with vice: Opium dens, prostitution, illegal booze storage sites during prohibition, and other unwholesome activities made their home in these dark places, in the hope of making fast money.

In Savannah at a particular tavern, and in the city of Portland the most serious crimes were committed. The Pirate’s Restaurant was a tavern and inn aimed at the merchant marine clientele, as well as drawing privateers, not so above board. Through the brick tunnel in the basement that led to the harbor, privateers would carry really drunk men to the ships, impressing them against their will to serve on Privateer ships on their way to raid and rob in the 1700s. This practice was outlawed in 1811, though honest recruitment efforts with the men who frequented this tavern continued on.

Portland did use their tunnels during the daylight hours to deliver goods to businesses, but during the evening hours, along with drugs, prostitution, gambling and illegal booze, more evil, despicable acts of human trafficking were committed, for a long period of time. Shanghaiing and the sex slave trade led to many deaths under the streets, and shortened, miserable lives. These horrible deeds continued on with the blessing of the police department, politicians and businesses, from 1850 until 1941! The human trafficking business dried up during WW2, and it never returned. Probably, the tunnels were becoming weak, all ships started using unionized merchant marines, and the high demand for prostitutes disappeared.

However, from 1850-1941, it was a different story. The gold rush was in full swing, taking all the cheap labor away from the shipping business. Ship Captains certainly didn’t want to offer more pay for sailors because of the lack of cheap prospects. The idea of having free labor instead became very tempting. These Captains hired vicious thugs called crimps, to spot men who were new to town, become friendly with them, buy them a drink, drug their drink before giving it to them, and then with the help of the bartender, they would drag and drop the unfortunate men down to the tunnels, via a trap door that opened by a push of the button. A bounty of 50 dollars was paid for each new, reluctant sailor.

The crimps would cram them into small wooden cages with no food or drink, mostly in the tunnels closest to the water. After several days of captivity, they would be given something to drink that was full of drugs, making them easy to move onto ships after they had been sold to the various Captains. If the kidnapped men were lucky to actually wake up, they found themselves chained in the bowel of a ship, far away from shore.

Crimps would also befriend new young women in town, drug them, drop them down a trap door, and imprison them in the tunnels as well. The long-practiced process of turning an American woman into a pliable participant, used since sex trafficking reared its ugly head in Portland, was brutal. After being kidnapped, they would be kept in isolation in a closet-like box, alone. Within 8 to 48 hours they would be broken in spirit, convinced that they would never see their families again; in the perfect state of mind to be sold into this unhappy state of being raped for the rest of their lives, that were often shortened by disease, violence or even by the murderous intentions of their owner or customer.

In the early days, these captive women were forced into the sex trade in town, with little hope of escaping, as the paid-off authorities had no interest in their plight. The demand for prostitutes was high, in both private bars, like The White Eagle Saloon, and some hotels, like the upscale Merchant Hotel, that were conveniently located near an entrance to the tunnels, or usually having a direct connection to the tunnels via their basement. Some of these establishments were owned by the crime leaders themselves.

In the ’20s and ’30s, Prohibition and its enforcement changed the vice trade. During Prohibition, the speak-easy crowd simply moved underground to either the basements of bars or the tunnels themselves to drink and party, perhaps becoming the next easy targets of the crimps, or other gangster types. These underground bars offered black market liquor, with gambling and sensual comfort opportunities as well. Law and Order had come somewhat to Portland, and police raids made it harder for the vice businesses, though barrels of booze were stored in the tunnels, and brought to underground speakeasies throughout the town.

While some brothels were still located in the tunnels near the illegal underground bars, most of the unfortunate women who were kidnapped were sold and transported to ships, that were destined to drop their living cargo into brothels located in other port cities and towns, or even over-seas.

By 1941, human trafficking of men and women became unprofitable, and these practices stopped entirely. The tunnels were finally padlocked to keep vice industries out of this favored area of business. They stayed off limits for many years, until the Cascade Historical Society discovered them, renovated small parts of the tunnels, and now give tours for profit. Also, Portland Walking Tours gives a tour as well.



People who experience living in captivity, suffering at the hands of others, and dying in their circumstances, sometimes can’t let go of their ordeal, and restlessly haunt the place of their captivity.

Many captives died in the Portland Tunnels’ underground cells do to harsh treatment, lack of food and water, and overdoses of knock-out drugs.

Life as a prostitute slave was full of risks, and life-threatening moments. Being brave enough to be a whistle-blower and telling outsiders surely was a death sentence.

In the early 1900s, one young sex slave, Nina, was approached by missionaries who promised to rescue her from her horrible life, if she told them who kidnapped her and who was her owner. She complied, but was killed and thrown down the elevator shaft of the Merchant Hotel where she “worked” before she could be rescued; either by a deranged customer, or more probably by her peeved owners who found out what she had done.

In 1902, the drugged, brutally treated, shanghaied crew; around 100 men, who were chained together in the bowels of the 4 masted schooner, the Jennifer Jo, died on board when the ship sank in the Portland Harbor.

During Prohibition, many mobsters involved with black market booze, sometimes got in battles with rival gangsters over territorial markets, in public places, causing the death of the other side and anyone else who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Terrified people who are killed by their pursuers sometimes can’t let go of their trauma, and haunt the area where they were killed.

During the Prohibition years, the gangsters ran a speak easy out of one of the basements of the businesses connected to the tunnel that runs between “Ringlers,” on Stark Avenue, and “The Crystal Ballroom”, located on Burnside Street. Terror reigned when a rival gang showed up, wearing stolen Portland policemen uniforms, armed with Tommie guns and axes. People at this party and the gangsters who ran it escaped down the tunnel, with the killers close behind them. All was lost though when the frightened people came to a narrowing of the tunnel, where they were massacred along with the gangsters, without mercy, to leave no witnesses.

People with no conscience who act despicably, hurting others for personal gain, can be grounded in this world by a higher power; not able to continue on into the spirit world. Or, perhaps they are just too afraid to do so, fearing what awaits them there.



Entity Of Nina

Haunts the Old Town Pizza, that is located in what was The Merchant Hotel’s Lobby. She has made this building her home for over a hundred years.

Her picture is hanging on the wall, and there is a brick that is located in one of the walls of the old elevator shaft, now part of a booth, with her name etched on it. She is regarded by many as a brave heroine who dared to turn in her captors, and let outsiders know what was happening. It is surmised that she was beautiful and had grace and charm to be the female companionship of the upper-crust men who stayed at the Merchant Hotel.

She makes her presence known by appearing as a lady in white, or a lady wearing a black dress. She likes to stand on the balcony, and makes appearances in front of staff and patrons, for her personal amusement.

The aroma of her perfume is noticed by the living, and then a brief glimpse of a black dress on a figure, looking over the patron’s shoulder.

In the early morning, or closing time is when she is most active, floating and moving through the restaurant, moving chairs, items on the tables and the kitchen to let employees know that she is there. When it is still, the observant person can hear her delicate footsteps tap across the floor.

One employee was alone in the kitchen after closing, finishing up work chores. He heard the soft tapping of foot-steps coming toward him. He looked up and saw a female form, dressed in a long black dress walking towards him. When this female entity, Nina, saw him looking at her, she stopped and looked at him before going down the basement steps toward the blocked off tunnel.

Entities of the Shanghaied crew of The Jennifer Jo

Starting at the tunnels nearest the water, every year on the anniversary of their drowning at sea, they rush back as a group, looking for those responsible, hoping to get justice of some sort.

Various witnesses have seen them, heard them and have actually been touched by a cold, wet hand.

Entities of the dastardly Crimps

Psychic clairvoyant mediums have seen them in the tunnels; hulking dark shadowy figures, with burning red eyes, PERHAPS a sign of eternal damnation.

People get an uneasy feeling, and sense a thick atmosphere in some parts of the tunnels, and probably feel like they are being watched intensely by these entities.

A male entity; possibly of a bartender – who partnered with the Crimps

His evil and creepy presence mainly resides in the Lotus Nightclub basement, probably the site of a Prohibition bar, though he also visits the main bar. Though he hasn’t hurt anyone, his aura isn’t a nice one. He gets his chuckles scaring the employees. Needless to say, employees don’t go down to the basement alone.

One brave bartender was alone in the club, cleaning up after closing. He went down to the basement, when he heard to CO2 canister going off by itself in the bar upstairs. He hurried upstairs, and found a single shot glass upside-down on the bar.

Entities of probably the Murdered Gangsters, not in a good mood!

Employees and long-time customers have seen one to a crowd of angry apparitions; described as being glowing, almost human shapes, come up from the basement, sometimes in a snarky mood, glaring at the living.


Entities of Probably the Innocent Party-goers

They come up in a panic. Their glowing, almost human shapes rush through the pub, brushing by patrons, and knocking over drinks and knocking chairs as they make a mad dash for the door.

Entities Who Died Underground

Entities of those who died underground in the mob massacre, killed by the rival mob gang:

Paranormal activity has been active in the pub, Scooter McQuades Bar and Grill, located right above where these souls were murdered.

Entities of those who died in captivity while held in the tunnels:

They not only wander the tunnels where they died, but also visit favorite joints of theirs while alive.


A BIG YES INDEED is in order. The number of entities still haunting the area of their demise, or place of employment, flow through the tunnels and spill out into the city of Portland, making Portland one of the most haunted cities in America.

Scooter McQuades Bar and Grill – Group personal experiences:

A brave group went down to the basement, and put their ears upon the bricked up doorway to the tunnel. They heard a chorus of terrified cries and moans getting louder and louder, coming right at the door they were listening at. They scurried upstairs, and then witnessed the glowing entities rush through the pub, but never quite making it outside before disappearing.

Personal Experiences in the underground tunnels/catacombs:

Staff members going on and leading the tours have experienced and seen some of the spirits who stay in the tunnels.

An entity of a young 9 year old lad, who was hired by the crimps to empty the chamber pots of the captives is still there, along with others.

Psychic-clairvoyant mediums have seen the red-eyed entities of the dastardly crimps in the tunnels, grounded by their own evil deeds that destroyed so many people.

One reported to author, Todd Cobb, that the Lord’s wrath burned against these despicable individuals.

Hard evidence has been caught by paranormal investigation groups:

The Ghost Adventures team, led by Zack, caught some EVPs in the catacombs and tunnels, with spirits who like to joke around with them.

Zack was conversing/joking with an entity prostitute, Nina, and they caught an evp, with Nina telling him to get naked.

Zack caught on his thermal imaging recorder, an ominous purple form without legs following Nick, who a few moments later felt light-headed, as Nick sat in a catacomb.




Located under the streets of Portland, Oregon; from the North end of Portland to the south end of Portland.

One underground tour begins just outside Hobos Restaurant, and another underground tour of the tunnels begins just outside Old Town Pizza, in Chinatown. Tours are limited to a block , and consist of tunnels going to a few basements of bars.


  • Ghosts of Portland, Oregon
    By Todd Cobb
    Schiffer Publications 2008
  • Haunts of Western Oregon
    By Kent Goodman
    Schiffer Publications 2009
  • kgw.com
  • travelchannel.com

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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