Closed off tunnel now sheds light on Portland's sordid past

Closed off tunnel now sheds light on Portland's sordid past

PORTLAND, Ore. - History buffs and volunteers are hauling out new items from a tunnel section beneath the city that has been closed off to the public. It could prove just how deep a secret underground business of human trafficking seeped through the city.

KATU News was allowed into the section Tuesday night for a first look.

History aficionados are finding some interesting items of historic importance, but the section is also different than others in the city because of how it was used to kidnap people roughly 100 years ago.

"It was very dark and dreary in Portland's past," said Michael P. Jones, curator of Shanghai Tunnel/Portland Underground.

An entryway leads to the section of the city's underground tunnels beneath the Rich Hotel in Old Town.

Inside, a piece of plywood now boards up one window. That window has a sinister past as does the stairwell directly beneath it that leads into a lower room.

"There'd be a prostitute hanging out of that window half-dressed and would entice the men to come in and visit them," Jones said. "And (the men) had to go down those stairs, and before they could reach those stairs to get up to the hotel to the prostitute – that's when they were grabbed."

Jones said kidnapped prisoners, who would later be sold to sea captains, were kept in a holding cell.

"Holding cells like this one were rare because most of the cells that they used were made of old boards covered with tin," he said.

Portland's appeared to be made mostly of brick.

Jones said the section is filled with unique history as it used to be tied in to some of the older connected tunnels. He and his volunteers have been exploring it for about a month thanks to the new building owners.

So far, they've found precious items like dated initials from 1918 and 1930 scribbled on pillars.

They're preserving anything they can, including a bottle dating back to the 1880s. It was used up to the time of prohibition.

They've also found unique spoons and a heavy candleholder made of iron that Jones called "the most fascinating" piece they've found so far.

"For Portland's history, (the section will) be another piece of that underground puzzle that when you start putting it together (you'll get) a better concept of what our history was really like," Jones said.

There's still more digging to do and more history to uncover underneath modern day Portland. The work will include more cleanup work and restoration.

Jones is planning on giving tours to the public in the near future. He even hopes to open a museum below and one above.