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Underneath Portland’s Old Town is a network of tunnel passages connecting the basements of many downtown bars and hotels to the Willamette River waterfront. In the 19th century, these tunnels were primarily used by merchants to move goods from the ships docked at the harbor directly to the basement storage areas, while avoiding the busy over ground traffic. But over the years these dingy tunnels became the center for organized crime and many nefarious practices such as shanghaiing. Indeed, so pervasive are these stories that the locals call Portland Underground the “Shanghai Tunnels”. But what exactly is shanghaiing?

During the Age of Sail—a period lasting from the 16th to the 19th centuries—a vast number of skilled and unskilled seamen were required to meet the needs of sea going vessels. But life at sea was harsh and there was far too few volunteers. So many European nations, especially the British Royal Navy, resorted to a more straightforward method of recruitment, namely, kidnapping.

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