The Portland, Oregon, of today may be a laid-back utopia that outsources artisanal coffee and fair-trade messenger bags, but the Portland of the late 1800s made its name in a very different trade. Long before hipsters took over the “City of Roses,” it was one of the most dangerous port towns in the country, with a brutal kidnapping epidemic that led to the nickname “Forbidden City of the West.”
For nearly 100 years—between the mid-1800s, past Prohibition, and up into the 1940s—an illicit flesh market funneled reportedly thousands of men and women to Pacific-bound ships to serve as crew members and prostitutes.
Widely-shared tales of “shanghaiing” tell of drunken patrons falling through trapped doors in seedy bars to wake up enslaved as seamen; men lured by prostitutes into underground holding cells where they’d remain until being sold to the next ship that docked in town; and women drugged and kept in solitary cells underground in conditions meant to break their will. The unscrupulous practice took its name from the destination many unfortunate victims found themselves en route to.