This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.
A city’s catacombs are always fascinating, and we’d been wanting to tour the Portland Underground for years now. The tour met at Hobo’s, and we started by gathering our group in the alleyway out back.
Our tour guide then took us around front, opened a door in the sidewalk, and we went downstairs to a network of previously-interconnected basements that originally stretched from the waterfront to NW 23rd street, and from what’s now Old Town all the way south to what’s now the financial district.
It turns out Portland has a really seedy past. There were opium dens, houses of ill repute, black markets, and all kinds of other “underground” economic activity. Even as recently as the 1940’s, people were regularly being kidnapped, drugged, and being put to work basically as slaves – men on ships to east Asia, women as prostitutes in faraway cities. Down here is where they were kept until they could be shipped away.
There’s even a 7-foot-tall wooden cigar-shop Indian, whose long story includes being wrapped in a rug and sold as a “drugged slave”.
This is a primitive alarm system; this string of tin cans would be hung across a tunnel entrance, so the people inside would hear if someone was coming in.
Of course, all of this was presented interlaced with ghost stories and tales of “paranormal experts” having “strange and unexplainable” experiences down there.
Wikipedia notes that there isn’t really that much evidence for all this, and it everything I’ve written here might not be actual fact. But it doesn’t seem so unbelievable that it couldn’t be true. People have a history of being generally horrible to each other.
Anyways, it’s a different angle on our city, and we enjoyed the tour, even if it left us a bit disturbed. If you go, be aware that it was pretty crowded, and it’s pretty filthy down there, so don’t wear flip-flops and dazzlingly white socks, like one of our tour mates did.