Apr 29, 2019

Walking tour of Portland, Oregon

 I spent Easter in Portland, Oregon with my son, Jim.  One of the things I wanted to do was to check out the Shanghai Tunnels so Jim booked the “Underground Walking Tour.” I had read that, in the 1800s, sailors were not eager so sign up to work on a ship headed to far-flung ports so a contractor would get sailors drunk and put them on a ship headed East. The contractor would get paid for each sailor he “shanghaied” and when the sailor woke up he was on a ship headed to Asia which could take two years.

The practice was not unique and occurred in many ports but on the West Coast it flourished in Portland. Our guide said that in Portland it was called ‘crimping’ and that the ‘crimps’ used a variety of nefarious means to get sailors aboard ship. The name is derived from the Dutch word for a holding pen. One of the more notorious crimps was James Kelly, “The King of Crimps,” who set a record for rounding up 50 men in three hours. But his most famous deal was in 1893 when he delivered 22 men to a ship who had mistakenly consumed embalming fluid in an open cellar of a mortuary, most of them dead. The captain, used to comatose sailors, did not discover most of them were dead until after they had set sail. Kelly received $52 for each man!

As the guide said we would learn about of the “terrible, horrible, no
good, very bad things from Portland’s past” as we walked through Old Town.  In the 1800s there were 17 men for every female and while the marriage prospects for women were great it also led to one of civilization’s oldest professions. They were euphemistically called “seamstresses.” Besides a bar and pool hall, the Merchant Hotel’s third floor had many seamstresses. In an effort to avoid taxes Madame Nancy Boggs had a two-story tavern/bordello on a barge on the Willamette River.
When she was told a raid was coming (the police were some of her best customers) she would have a steamboat captain tow her to the other side of the river. One night someone cut the anchor rope and the pleasure palace floated down river where it came to rest on a sand bar. A friendly steamboat captain came to her rescue, towed it back, and she was back in business.

Prohibition only lasted 13 years but it has provided every
community with a plethora of stories.  Portland was no exception.  The police, after making a raid, would take the confiscated booze and, in front of the press, make a public display of pouring it all in a vat, but unbeknownst to the public, the vat emptied in the cellar where is was rebottled for sale.

In the “they thought of everything” category, Erickson’s Saloon had a 684-foot bar staffed by 50 bartenders in fancy vests. It offered five-cent beers and a free “dainty lunch” of sausages, roasts, pickled herring, and cheeses but the unique feature was the trough that ran along the bottom of the bar – a urinal trough. Loggers, sailors, and others did not have to leave the bar when nature called.

Today Portland is considered progressive and liberal but in 1844 all blacks were ordered to get out of Oregon and an 1846 law made it illegal for blacks to live or work in the state. The law stayed in effect until it was repealed in 1925.