Tag Archives: crimping

Ghost Hunting

I’m still stuck in Portland, but I wanted to do something while I’m here. I found the Portland Walking Tour Company and booked a tour last night. I really wanted to go on the Shanghai Tunnels tour, but the schedule interfered with my seminars. I am here for a reason, after all. I wound up booking the late version of Beyond Bizarre, because it covered parts of the Shanghai Tunnels.

In case you don’t know, being Shanghaied means bashed over the head and sent to sea against your will as slave labor. My grandfather served as a Marine in China between the world wars, and this was still a serious risk over there. They were told to hang out in groups and stay in the safe areas when they went out. My grandpa is part of why I wanted to visit this site.

I started my evening at Old Town Pizza. Wound up with a personal pizza that was more like a small, but since it was the only real food I had all day I ate the whole thing. I also had a mushroom beer that was surprisingly good,

Mushroom BeerThis one is a nice brown ale, and it uses an extract for the flavor. Not maybe the best way to brew a beer, but it was good.

My tour started right around the corner. Monday night was sold out, but there were only three of us on the tour last night. The guide handed us all electromagnetic field indicators and showed us how they work. Then we were off, weaving through the street people who seem to sleep in every store opening and all along the sidewalk.

EMF meterSomething registered a few times, this was in one of the parking lots.

There was so much stuff I’m bound to miss something, but I’m going to touch on the highlights. The first thing we learned was that Portland had more men than women, and had a huge seamstress population. Seamstress was a code word for prostitute. There was human trafficking there too and we covered some of that.

It was nighttime, so I took limited photos. This is one of a cast iron building. Apparently, you could order all the pieces, a tall ship brought them in, and you assembled it on site just like Legos. They added brick and such for the walls once the frame went up. Cast iron isn’t the most reliable material in a city that gets this much rain, but it was state-of-the-art back then.

Cast iron building

Once you get onto it, you spot the frills and pillars all over the old part of town. This pub also has a ghost. There was a fire that broke out downstairs, and the fire department saved everyone. A dog went missing and a fireman went back inside for it. Yup, haunted by a fireman.

We toured a couple of haunted parking lots next. Lots of EMF readings but no ghosts. Historically, they are both considered tainted ground and no building or digging is allowed. Even the power lines run overhead in these locations. One is an Indian burial site and the other is a cholera mass grave. All they can be is a parking lot. Apparently that isn’t okay with the dead either, because things keep happening to the cars that park there. These are all electronic failures and not vandalism. 

The guide showed us a photo of something called a vortex that they took there one night. It’s a beam of light coming straight out of the ground. Only about half the crowd could see it, but the picture came from someone who was a non-believer. Yeah, it could have been photoshopped, but what kind of fun do you want to have on a ghost tour?

We also saw the site of a street shooting from the 1980s. Apparently this location has a lot of poltergeist activity, and they think it’s because the victims were all teenagers.

There are specific ghosts that are regularly seen downtown. The tour guide listens to the police scanner and they get reports, The police never find the person they were sent to check out. One example is an 1800s era ship’s captain. All they ever found of his ship was the wheel. His body was lashed to it, and we got to see the wheel from the outside. The restaurant was closed for the night and it was kept inside. People see this cos-play looking sailor in that vicinity disrupting traffic. Cops come…nobody there.

We got to see the old police building that was actually owned by the Ku Klux Klan. This was all about government graft and corruption, and the Shanghai tunnels were used to move liquor around. Whiskey barrels were placed in the basements of ethnic competitors. Then the Klan-controlled police would raid and find this whiskey, putting the ethnic fellow out of business. The police would bust up the barrel in the street, the whiskey flowed into a special drain that routed it back to the original owner who bottled and sold it. This all happened decades before the USA adopted prohibition, because Portland had its own laws.

We saw the street of death, where every building used to house a mortuary. The cemetery was on the opposite side of the river, and there was even a special ship for the dead to cross the river. It all sounds so wonderfully legendary. Why so many mortuaries? Lots of death going around.

This is the high water mark of a flood that occurred.

Flood markerWe were way above the river, and this plaque is about five and a half feet above street level. All of the basements in this part of town are connected by tunnels. It was Portland’s idea to minimize flood damage, they weren’t built for Shanghaing men to ship to sea. It’s all semantics, but Shanghaing never happened in Portland. This is because of a perfectly legal system called “crimping.” There were legal press gangs that bopped people over the head and sold them to ships who needed crews. They said in those days, if you were seen dragging an unconscious man downstairs, a policeman might pick up his ankles and help you – because it was all perfectly legal.

These Shanghai tunnels were used for legal crimping and storage of those men. That’s when the flood came. They didn’t want to let the crimped men go, so they locked them inside. Hundreds of men drowned and could not be cleaned up for months. They didn’t clean them up. They crimped more men, made them clean up the bodies, then sold those men to sea.

This left a bad taste in their mouths, and also helped one of the cholera outbreaks along. The next time they had a flood, they went downstairs and shot all the crimped prisoners rather than deal with the mess.

Seamstresses were trafficked too, but they fell victim to a little something extra in their opium. This is one of the cells where victims were held, but this one was used for seamstresses.

Jail cellThe women would be held here for three days and three nights without food, water, or light. Then they were offered a job as a seamstress. If the woman refused, the process was repeated one more time. If she still refused, they cut her hair, bound her chest, and sold her off like a man. By the time anyone knew what happened they were miles out to sea. It was considered bad luck to have a woman on board, so the women were thrown overboard to drown.

This is what the Shanghai Tunnels look like today. They’re all filled with rubble, which isn’t great engineering when you’re driving busses and trucks over them. One day they will have to figure out an alternative way of closing them.

Shanghai TunnelsIf you believe in ghosts, Portland almost certainly has them. A lot of pain and suffering went down here. If you don’t believe, it was a great tour of the dark underbelly of an early part of American history.

I didn’t see any ghosts, but I know where they all live – or don’t live, cause dead and all that.

I didn’t get to bed until midnight, and my presentation was the first one today. It went down really well, but I’m a little tired right now. Whatever I do tonight will probably be kind of light duty.


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