Before I moved to the city, I mainly pictured Portland as an outdoorsy hipster-capital that was all about unique fashion and the 90’s. It still definitely adheres to those things, but what I wasn’t expecting was the amount of crime found around the city, the abundance of teenage “gangsters”, and the underground culture that still exists from Portland’s seedy past.
Of course, I also didn’t know all that much about its shady past when it first started out as a port city. Being from Santa Cruz, I’ve always given the shadiest city award to San Francisco in terms of present day and past crime and violence. However, I’ve realized in the short time I’ve lived in Portland that Stumptown is right up there with San Francisco.
I went on the creepy and intriguing Haunted Pub Tour with BeerQuest PDX last Friday to explore more of Portland’s past in the form of ghost stories. Surprisingly, it’s a great way to make history stick. I can still recall pretty much all of the anecdotes our guide told us on the 2.5 hour tour.
Kristen was our guide for the night, and I found her to be the perfect storyteller. She became animated and excited when relating a plot to us and was great with historical facts and dates, the trifecta to being a great tour guide.
Throughout the night we only went to two pubs, but we stopped countless times along the way to hear about another haunted place in Portland. To sum it up, if it’s a brick building in Old Town (which is almost all of them), it’s probably haunted.
The tour price is $40 and includes a minimum of 7 samples of craft beer at the two pubs you visit, and we had more than enough beer to drink by the last pub with the 6 or so pitchers at our table.
My tour group consisted of a good mix of travelers and couples. I had the chance to chat with almost everyone on the tour and they were all such lovely people. There were four couples in total, one from San Jose, one from Charleston, one from Las Vegas and the last from San Antonio. There were also three girls from Southern California that mainly kept to themselves.
Before I creep you out with a few ghost stories, let me explain a bit about the history of Portland, and maybe give you an idea as to why there’s still apparently so many angry spirits that have supposedly never found rest in certain areas.
Portland was founded as a city in 1845 by two men, Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy. They had a coin toss to determine what the name of their new discovery would be, either Portland after Pettygrove’s hometown in Maine, or Boston, after Lovejoy’s hometown in Massachusetts. Clearly, we know who won that toss.
Portland was a rowdy and rough port city back in the late 1800s. The Shanghai Tunnels were in existence and believed to be in operation from about the 1850s to the 1940s. To be “shanghaied” meant to be kidnapped and dragged through the Shanghai Tunnels to be put on the next boat leaving the dock. You would basically be sold into slavery as a sailor and your capturer would get all the income you would’ve had otherwise through working for the captain.
The Shanghai Tunnels connect to many of the bars and restaurants around Old Town, so it would be very easy for these middlemen to drug a young sailor and drag him through the tunnels straight from his establishment. Although shanghaiing happened all along the West Coast, it was particularly bad in Portland, especially during Prohibition.
In addition to the shanghai practices that were commonly happening in the city, Portland was corrupt from its beginnings in 1845. It’s said that the first police chief of Portland in 1870 was the most corrupt of all, owning his own brothel (which yes was still illegal back in the day), and even possibly partaking in a murder or two.
Haunted Buildings Around Portland
1. The old police bureau in Old Town is one of the places that is said to be haunted on the second floor. There was a murder of a police officer on the steps of the station way back when, and it’s speculated that it was due to the fact that he was sleeping with the police chief’s wife and was quickly disposed of.
The second floor was where this officer worked. That floor is made up of apartments and offices now and there are constantly people breaking their leases due to weird events or feeling uncomfortable in their own home, and it’s usually women who are targeted.
- The brave men & women that live at Portland Firestation #1 in Old Town have apparently had a few unexplainable experiences in the building. The firefighter bunks are all on the 2nd floor, but there have been cases where they’ve heard people running around on the floor above them after lights out.
After enough complaints, there was a bit of digging done on the history of the land where the fire station is located, and they found that it was the site of Portland’s first cemetery.
If you know anything about Portland’s history you know that there have been a couple of bad floods from the Willamette River. During one of these floods, all of the bodies started coming up from the soil, so they decided to move them elsewhere away from the river. Well, to this day they still find fragments of bones from the bodies that weren’t dug up all the way. There’s speculation that the people who are still buried underneath the station are the ones running around on the top floor.
- The Fleischner Mayer and Company Building, now a bar, used to be the sailor’s boardinghouse and the headquarters of the notorious crimp, Joseph “Bunko” Kelley. Crimps were the men who “shanghaied” sailors and brought them to the outgoing ships. Bunko Kelley was one of the worst in Portland, he bragged that he shanghaied over 100 men during his career.
There’s one story of Bunko Kelley convincing a large group of enthusiastic young sailors to come down to the tunnels with him to try and find an unlocked door that went into a bar’s basement. All the rowdy sailors quickly agreed, and they went down to the tunnels looking for free booze.
Out of all the doors they tired, they found one that opened right up with a cask perfectly situated in the center of the room. The sailors immediately tapped it and started having a grand old time, Bunko Kelley of course stayed sober since he was on the job.
Soon all of the sailors were passed out, and he dragged them all to their fate on the next ship out to England. Well the next day, when the ship’s captain went to go wake up the sailors on his ship none of them would stir. It was discovered that the door they found unlocked was the basement of the local mortuary, and that cask of “ale” they found was actually formaldehyde.
The captain realized the next day out at sea that all the sailors were dead. When the ship docked in England, the Queen declared Portland the most dangerous port city in the world and banned any English ship from going there.
It’s no surprise that this building is known as one of the haunted establishments in Portland, there was a lot of seedy activity that went on in the sailor’s boardinghouse back in the day.
- Hoodoo Antiques & Design is an antique store in Old Town that opened in 1994 and run by one man. He has an old portrait of a woman from the 1800s hanging above the doorframe that was given to him by his mother-in-law. It’s said that the woman in that portrait is sometimes seen after the store is closed, walking around in the back of the store.
The Bars With Resident Ghosts
1. Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub was the first pub we went to for the night. They’ve had many people who have worked there that have come forward and told some interesting first-hand experiences. The most famous ghost seen in this bar is the fireman who is often found in the cigar bar down in the basement.
He was the first fireman in Portland to die in the line of duty, and there have been workers and customers alike that have described seeing the same person hanging around the basement in his old fire fighter uniform.
If you go on the tour, when you hear the story of the piano you will get chills down your spine. This was also a bar that was connected to the Shanghai Tunnels, which you can still view from the basement.
2. Old Town Pizza is known as the most haunted pub in Portland, and I promised you guys that I would tell you why. Old Town Pizza is located where the grand Merchant Hotel used to be. Built in 1880, it was the place where the rich and elevated people in society would come stay if they visited Portland. Even with the hotel’s high class the top level housed a brothel.
A certain woman by the name of Nina was a prostitute at the hotel. She was of Asian descent and was most likely sold into prostitution at a young age. She also had a young daughter and got to the point where she was tired of the life she had been forced into.
She was approached by some missionaries who convinced her to end her profession, but they made the mistake of going to the very corrupt police for help when she agreed. Instead of helping Nina, the police went to the owners of the hotel and told them what Nina was planning.
As punishment, they took Nina to one of the upper floors and threw her down the elevator shaft to her death. People say that Nina has haunted the hotel for over 100 years since that perilous day.
Guests have been known to feel a presence behind them, see a lady dressed in black, or smell a faint waft of perfume. Children are said to follow things that aren’t there with their eyes, or be more likely to have “imaginary friends” while in the restaurant.
The manager of the bar who has worked there for over a decade has even commented on some unexplainable activity in the bar when he’s closing up for the night. He even called the police once when he thought for sure someone else was in the building, and there was no one there.
BeerQuest’s haunted pub tour was excellent and creepy as it should be. I gave an overview of the tour but obviously the tour goes into a lot more detail than what I laid out here for you. BeerQuest also offers a brewery tour in addition to their Haunted Pub Tour. If you’re looking for a great tour in Portland this was an enlightening one, whether or not you believe in ghosts.
Thank you BeerQuest for hosting me on the tour, all opinions, as always, are my own.
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