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Portland's buried truth
But on the tour itself, visitors don't venture down any tunnels. Rather, the tour consists of walking among a few interconnected basement rooms.
Still, not everyone completely writes off the stories. Chet Orloff, who was director of the Oregon Historical Society from 1991 to 2001, maintains that there could have been kidnapping via basement connections, although he declines to refer to them as Shanghai tunnels.
"Calling something 'Shanghai' is probably giving it a more highfalutin title than perhaps those much more prosaic tunnels deserve," said Orloff, who is now a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.
As for Portland tourism officials, the story is too good to ignore -- even if they won't vouch for its truth, either. The visitors association often piques travel writers' interest with tunnel stories, said spokeswoman Deborah Wakefield.
"If everything in Portland had been perfectly perfect," she said, "we'd be a boring place."
Proof of tunnels pending
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.
"We're not about to just give everything away," he said. "I've worked on this my entire life. . . . I'm not giving up my information until I release it in the forms that we want to."
A spokeswoman for the family working with Jones also insisted the stories are true.
"My husband's grandfather built those tunnels," said Candi DeGrande, of Molalla. "We have all the documents and all the proof."
She said that, among other things, the documents show dates, names and places of people who were shanghaied.
But, like Jones, DeGrande refused to show any of the documents, saying the family and Jones have a contract that forbids the release of information until Jones finishes his book. The family, both she and Jones agree, has the authority to edit or block the book if they don't approve, which some historians said was an unusual arrangement.
In the end, the truth -- or lack of it -- may not matter to many Portlanders.
Carl Abbott, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University who says he has never seen evidence of shanghaiing through tunnels, said the stories at this point are "clearly part of the community mythology."
Helen Jung: 503-294-7621; firstname.lastname@example.org
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