Monday, October 07, 2013

Speakeasys, Opium Dens, and Brothels Part 2

As promised another part to my underground tour in Pendleton, Oregon.

The underground tunnels were made as a means not only for the Chinese to travel about the city without setting foot  above ground but for valuables to be hauled from the train station to down town and the banks.

Back in the late 1880s Pendleton was a wild bustling town. It had famous outlaws and a reputation for lawlessness. It was also one of the largest towns close to the Blue Mountain gold mines.

bunk beds where they slept
Many Chinese immigrated to the U.S. looking to make money to send back home. But the Chinese Exclusion Act only allowed male Chinese to enter the U.S. It was felt if the women and children weren't allowed to come over they wouldn't stay. They were quiet people who lived together, did menial jobs(if in the cities) or continued to pan in gold mines others had left.  The also worked long hours on the railroads for less pay than their white counterparts.

Kitchen in the same room as the beds
In the cities they weren't allowed to travel the streets after dark. That was one of the reasons the underground tunnels were built in some cities. It provided a way for the Chinese to move about without the threat of harm from drunk cowboys or whites who believed the Chinese were fair game for ridicule and abuse. They lived communally in the tunnels under the bustling streets.
Hop Sing's laundry

The underground tunnels had regular cities with the same conveniences that were found above ground. Hop Sing (the real one not the one on Bonanza) had a lucrative laundry business in the tunnels for 30 years. Boys would pick up the finished laundry from a door leading from the basement laundry to deliver it and bring back the clothes to be laundered. Since Hop Sing was also heating water for washing clothes, he also had bathing facilities. The first bath of the day with fresh clean water was $.50 as the day progressed, rather than lug so many buckets, after each bath he would take out two buckets of the dirty water and add two hot fresh buckets. The last bath of the day was only a nickle and would have water from everyone who bathed before you. I didn't ask about where the dirty water was dumped but the fresh water was from a cistern in the tunnel.
Bath at Hop Sing's

Another unique feature that will make it into one of my books is the Chinese Running Door. While the cowboys who came down to the tunnel's gambling houses drank, the smart Chinese didn't drink and were  adept gamblers. When a China man started winning big, it was in his best interest to get going before the drunken cowboy decided to make an example of him. Without the law on their sides, the Chinese had to always be vigilant to danger. In the tunnels leading out of the gambling establishments there were Chinese Running Doors. These doors looked like all the other doors, but were held in place by a bar in the middle. When a China man saw a cowboy was getting riled, he'd dive for the door, duck, and crawl under the door as it hinged up. The cowboy would run at the door with his hand or arm out,and the bottom would smack him in the shins. He'd kick the bottom, and the top would swing down and bonk him in the head. By the time the cowboy figured out the door, the Chinese man would be long gone down the maze of tunnels.
Cistern and pump in the tunnel

Unfortunately, one of the things the Chinese brought with them from their homeland was opium smoking. Down in the tunnels there were opium dens where the Chinese, prostitutes, or anyone wishing to smoke to get away from their real life could go.

Most items that are in the tunnels are items that were unearthed when the tunnels were reopened in the 1990's. When the tunnels were boarded up very few things were taken from the areas.

More to come....


Diana Mcc. said...

Paty, this blog was fascinating!! We had tunnels in Sacramento and I've been to the ones in Portland,but nobody mentioned the 'running door'. I love that idea.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Diana! Yes, the minute the guide talked about the running door, I knew I'd be setting part of a book in the tunnels. The story is slowly working it's way through the other sludge in my brain.

Diana Mcc. said...

LOL! Must be the same sludge I experience. Must be a writer thing!!

Charlene Raddon said...

Really enjoyed this, Paty.

Paty Jager said...

Diana, it is a writer thing!

Hi Charlene! Thanks!

Kathy Otten said...

Fascinating! Love the Chinese Running door. You described it so perfectly I could see it. Reminded me of a Jackie Chan movie. said...

Hi Paty
Loved this post. I could see the running door so vividly and the reaction of the cowboy - haha.
Please keep us informed of when this info will be in one of your books as I will definitely be reading it.

Paty Jager said...

LOL Kathy. When the guide was telling about the story I could see my blind hero using it and being pulled down the tunnels by a soiled dove.

Hi Susan! It will be in the third book of the Halsey Homecoming Trilogy. Claiming a Heart.