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Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Straight from the underground
The History Channel's Cities of the Underworld series stopped by Portland for an episode that aired last night. Of course, the first segment covered the (alleged) history of the Shanghai Tunnels. The show's host followed Michael Jones through the area below Hobo's in Old Town, covering all the same stuff typically seen by his tour groups. The torture closet, the opium den, the holding cell with the tiny bars and the abandoned pile of shoes were all covered.
Since the show focuses on tales of crime and debauchery instead of the supernatural, it skipped over the ghost stories and moved on to a segment on Prohibition Rose, a brothel owner who once cranked out whiskey from a distillery beneath a Eastside building that now houses a graphic design firm. The show also touched on a speakeasy in the basement of Huber's, how the water bureau deals with flammable meth makings flushed into the city's sewers and an underground fight club that once entertained visiting cattle ranchers. One notorious bare-knuckled brawler reportedly bit off the ear of an opponent decades before the idea ever crossed Mike Tyson's mind.
Portland's installment is worth watching, if only for the cheesy, horror movie tracking shots that pan from spots like Skidmore Fountain down through the pavement into the city's subterranean. One overly-dramatic shot makes SW Natio look positively evvvvvvvviiiiiiiil. The show also offers CGI graphics of what the tunnels and Rose’s distillery would have looked like back in the day.
Everything's amped-up to keep viewers watching. During the host's introductions, he walks at a rapid pace through Old Town, the Hawthorne Bridge and past the Santa Fe Taqueria on NW 23rd, talking at a breathless clip as if the viewing audience's VERY LIVES depend on the information he's about to reveal. The typical intro:
"We're standing in Portland’s Old Town district near a former WILD WEST BAR where INNOCENT men were brutally DRUGGED, KIDNAPPED and SENT OUT TO SEA a century ago. When they regained consciousness, they had two options: work for low pay or GET THROWN OVERBOARD!"
All definitely worth seeing. The episode will reair this Sunday morning at 10 AM.