The Old Portland Underground, better known locally as the Shanghai tunnels, are a group of passages in Portland, Oregon, United States, mainly underneath the Old Town/Chinatown section and connecting to the main business section. The tunnels connected the basements of many hotels and taverns to the waterfront of the Willamette River. They were built to move goods from the ships docked on the Willamette to the basement storage areas, allowing businesses to avoid streetcar and train traffic on the streets when delivering their goods.
Historians have stated that although the tunnels exist and the practice of Shanghaiing was sometimes practiced in Portland as elsewhere, there is not any evidence that the tunnels were used for this.
In Barney Blalock's book, "The Oregon Shanghaiers", Blalock a Portland historian, dates the notion the tunnels were used to shanghai sailors to a series of apocryphal stories that appeared in The Oregonian in 1962, and the subsequent popularity of "Shanghai tunnel" tours that began in the 1970s. He says the tours were popular but misled visitors.
In popular culture
The underground tunnels are reportedly haunted and were featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures. These tunnels have also been featured as settings and plot devices in television shows set in Portland, such as Leverage and Grimm.
- Portland historian Barney Blalock, 2014 book, "The Oregon Shanghaiers"
- Portland historian Barney Blalock's blog post on the subject http://portlandwaterfront.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-last-word-on-shanghai-tunnels.html
- Pickett, Nelson. "Free Tours of Oldtown Set to Start." The Oregonian December 1, 1990, 4 ed., sec. C: 07. America's Newspapers. NewsBank. Multnomah County Library, Portland. 30 Apr. 2008. Keyword: shanghai tunnels.
- The Oregonian: "Portland's buried truth" Helen Jung, 2007, Last accessed November 7, 2008
- The Oregon Shanghaiers:: Columbia River Crimping from Astoria to Portland by Barney Blalock ISBN 1626194300
- Engeman, Richard. "Shanghaiing in Portland and the Shanghai Tunnels Myth". The Oregon Encyclopedia.
- Cascade Geographic Society, offers tours of the basements near the tunnels.