Why Are the Shanghai Tunnels Closed?

The Old Portland Underground, better known as the Shanghai Tunnels, were closed in the 1940s due to instability of the tunnels as well as the fact that it was used for trafficking purposes. Over the years, many of the tunnels have collapsed and have posed danger not only to smugglers of the early days but also tourists who tour the infamous passageways today.

Today, the Shanghai Tunnels is opened to the tourists for tours. However, most of the tunnels are either closed to the public for safety reasons or demolished to make way for modern developments.

When Were the Shanghai Tunnels Built?

Construction of the Shanghai Tunnels were believed to have happened around 1851 in response to a new law passed by the state of Maine which banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Although the law was repealed five years later, it had prompted the construction of an underground labyrinth to allow for the transportation of illegal liquor. Funding of the massive underground network came mainly from local business owners and business associations who scorned the new law that had disrupted their business.

A bunker room at the Shanghai Tunnels | Image credits: DeLoris Scherschligt

What Were the Shanghai Tunnels Used For?

Over the years, what was originally used to transport alcohol would go on to become an underground expressway for kidnappers and a safehaven for illegal activities.

Illustration of a man being Shanghai-ed | Image credits: Bill Pickelhaut

The Shanghai Tunnels grew to become a complex network of tunnels and rooms to smuggle illegal goods as well as kidnapped men and women. This gave rise to its named Shanghai Tunnels; Shanghaiing refers to the practice of kidnapping people to serve as sailors on outbound ships to the Far East. The abducted were said to be drugged or knocked unconscious or kidnapped when drunk, and dropped into the tunnels through trapdoors (known as deadfalls) found in many of the businesses and bars.

The tunnels is mostly connected to the waterfront, allowing smugglers and human traffickers to transport goods and people in and out of Portland with ease. It is said that during the period from 1850 to 1940s, as many as 3,000 people would be ‘shanghai-ed’ out of the city.

It is also said that brothels, opium dens and gambling dens would operate in these underground rooms to evade the authorities. As such, the Shanghai Tunnels became a hotbed for nefarious activities ranging from tortures and forced prostitutions to murders.

Trapped door leading to Shanghai Tunnels | Image credits: porltandofloregon.blogspot.com

However, many of these stories remained as legends of the Shanghai Tunnels due to the lack of evidence to substantiate the claims. The Portland government as well as local historians have also discredited the supposedly heinous past of the tunnels,

Ghosts of the Shanghai Tunnels

Due to the ghastly past of the tunnels, many paranormal encounters have been reported by tourists visiting the underground passageways.

In particular, many claimed to have seen the apparition of a young girl named Nina. Nina was said to be a prostitute working at the Merchant Hotel where the Old Town Pizza & Brewing stands today. It was said that she was abducted to the Shanghai Tunnels directly below the hotel and was raped and killed. Her body is supposedly disposed in an abandoned elevator shaft that connected the tunnels to the ground floor. Today, the spirit of Nina is said to haunt the restaurant as well as the neighbouring sections of the Shanghai Tunnels.

Visitors of the Shanghai Tunnels have also reported many ghostly experiences including cries of a woman, disembodied voices and dark figures. It is also reported that “tricksters”, or mischievous tunnel spirits would tug the shirts of visitors and even trip any unsuspecting tourists over.

Secret Entrance to the Tunnels

An entrance to the underground tunnels is located at Hobo’s Restaurant in Old Town, at 120 NW Third Avenue. This is the only publicly known entrance and is used by the Portland Tunnels to conduct tours. Portland Tunnels is the only authentic non-profit organization that conducts tours to the Shanghai Tunnels. The organization currently conducts three educational tours—”Shanghai Tunnels Heritage Tour”, the “Shanghai Tunnels Ghost Tour”, and the “Shanghai Tunnels Ethnic History Tour”—each taking approximately an hour and a half to complete.

Entrance in front of Hobo’s restaurant that leads to the Shanghai Tunnels | Image credits: AmandaPantz @ Tripadvisor

Cascade Geographic Society is another local organization that offers an in-depth historical tour of the Shanghai Tunnels.

A secret entrance is said to be at a corner of the The Shanghai Tunnel Bar, located at 211 SW Ankeny St, Portland. However, this cannot be confirmed by the owners of the restaurant

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