Portland-area historians have found virtually nothing in their research to back up the notion that hustlers used a tunnel network for kidnapping men. A few question whether tunnels, beyond some simple connections among basements, ever existed.
Although the city does have a history of “shanghaiing,” or “crimping” as the practice was called, local historians say the first recorded mention of the tunnel connection didn’t come until the 1970s — decades after the practice peaked. The types of historical evidence academics and researchers would normally expect to find are missing.
“It’s not good history,” said Jacqueline Peterson Loomis, founder of the Old Town History Project and a history professor at Washington State University Vancouver. “It tends to obfuscate the real history, which I would argue is equally interesting and dicey.”
Still, Jones’ tours, which started in 1996, continue to thrive. IRS filings by the nonprofit that runs the excursions show that some 6,000 people each year take one of Jones’ underground tours, including one version for history buffs and one for those interested in ghost stories.
But on the tour itself, visitors don’t venture down any tunnels. Rather, the tour consists of walking among a few interconnected basement rooms.
Jones insists that he will prove the tunnels’ existence and their role in supporting Portland’s Shanghai trade. Eventually.
For years, he has said he was working on a book documenting the tunnels’ history. Now he says he aims to release a book in the next year, including information and documentation from a family who he said has photos and other evidence.
Jones refuses to disclose or share any of the documents before then.
Jones has been giving these tours, for $13 a head, for over 10 years and has yet to release a shred of evidence. Also, the official web site provides no information about Jones’s credentials.
I’ve been on one of these tours: it mostly involved walking around in dusty basements and listening to ghost stories. Each group gets to pick which version of the tour they want: the historic version or the ghost version. Guess which version most people want to hear. Jones did mix in some history with our tour, but from the sounds of it it was just as much fiction as the ghost stories.
Even before reading this article, I’ve suggested that people skip the tour and just visit the Shanghai Tunnel bar, where for the cost of a drink you can see what these Old Town basements look like.