Adventures in The Portland Underground

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by Johnathan Pierce  (Systems Administrator, Automation Geek)

Life is an adventure. When looking for some activities that would be adventurous for a birthday celebration we found tours offered of The Portland Underground.

When we arrived at Hobo’s restaurant in Portland we were taken to the back for an introduction and summary of what we were about to experience. The underground tunnels were very dark, musty and had low ceilings. We were told there could be some anomalous activity such as the feeling of someone tugging on your shirt or pant leg, smelling certain scents such as cigar smoke or perfume, or visually seeing haunting figures. They explained they don’t use trip wires or any entertainment value they are just there to present the history of Portland Underground Tunnels.

The tunnels are said to be one of the most haunted places in Portland.

The tour began at the front of the restaurant where there were metal doors that were opened with a staircase leading down. The guide explained he was doing the tour solo that day so one of the tour participants would have to be the brave one and go down first so that he could be the last one down and close the doors behind us. Looking at each other, I wanted to go but my wife wasn’t enthused by the idea.

The tunnels were discovered by a local Portlander and he’s created a nonprofit to help share the stories of Portland’s past.

We were instructed to walk down the hallway to the open room and wait for the tour guide. On the side of the hallway was a curtain that covered some storage space for the restaurant. Once we got to the end of the hallway and the guide arrived he showed us a room that was used for opium drug sellers. There was a bunk bed. It was explained that the bottom bed was the higher priced bed because it was a shorter fall to the ground. There was a hole in the floor covered by a rug. This was the area they used to hide their drugs. Police Officers would come down the tunnel and chase these patrons to the holding cell where they would be held until the next ship came in and sent on a voyage to Shanghai as slaves.

There was a string with cans on it that was used to alert intruders. It is very dark in the tunnels and noise was used to alert because of the absence of light.

Then we went to the holding cells. This is where the captured victims were held until a ship came in and the captain needed a specified number of people to work the ship. Outside of the holding cells were broken glass pieces. When they captured victims they would take their shoes so they couldn’t escape or if they did they’d leave a trail of blood.

After the holding cells we walked through an area that was used to hold female sex slaves. They would capture women and break their spirit and would remain in captivity for life. If the women had babies while in captivity they would raise the babies on the top floor of a nearby hotel until they were old enough to either become slaves or adopted.

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The journey continued as we went through another twisted tunnel and entered a large room. This is where we smelled rose scented perfume. My wife smelled it asked me if I could smell it I said yes. Then the smell went away and returned just a few minutes later.

Then we proceeded and the next area there was an Indian statue. The story behind this statue was fascinating. It was a statue outside of a cigar store. One of the slave traders sold this to a ship captain for a high price. The victims were often unconscious or drugged so they wouldn’t rise until they were out at sea. The captains assumed there would be some casualties but that outnumbered the risk of aggression or escapees. Once out at sea the captain realized he had been sold a statue. He threw it overboard and eventually the statue washed back up to shore and has found its home in the Portland Underground Tunnels.

We were shown trap doors that were used in bars to capture patrons in an underground tunnel. The captured people were held until a ship came in and they were then sent on the ship for 2-3 years. When the voyage(s) were completed they were dropped wherever they were with no resources, many didn’t make it.

I can never look at Portland sidewalks the same. Now we walk by openings covered by metal doors all over the city and wonder what’s underneath.

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