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In Character with Doug Kenck-Crispin

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - An occasional beer can be part of the job for Doug Kenck-Crispin, whose Seedy Portland tours take in a number of the citys historic watering holes.Doug Kenck-Crispin comes recommended as resident historian of Kick Ass Oregon History, a weekly radio program, and as the guide for the Seedy Portland tour. Sounds tasty.

Portland Tribune: We used to like Kettleman’s sesame, but not since they sold out. Broadway Bagels has a poppy seed that tastes pretty good. But you’re an expert on seedy Portland, so what do you say?

Doug Kenck-Crispin: It’s a different kind of seedy.

Tribune: You lead seedy tours of Portland and you have nothing to do with bagels? Chia?

Kenck-Crispin: Nothing. We do historic tours of the other side of Portland, what we call Portland’s naughty bits — former bordellos, famous bars and other establishments of vice.

Erickson’s Saloon down on Second and Couch was one of the most famous bars in America at one time due to its size. It was a bordello, a gambling house stocked with famous dancing girls from around the world. During Prohibition, business was still running good.

Tribune: So Erickson’s was one-stop shopping for vice?

Kenck-Crispin: There was a barber there. There was a post office. There was a movie theater. To have visited Portland and not seen Erickson’s was to miss one of the great sites of the city. It was like the Voodoo Doughnuts of today, but with a lot more prostitutes.

Tribune: Maybe. Have you seen the line outside Voodoo at 3 in the morning?

What’s your favorite part of the tour?

Kenck-Crispin: I like the stories about shanghaiing and dispelling the rumors of these nonexistent tunnels in the basement under the Old Town Pizza Company.

Tribune: Now hold on. The tunnels are real.

Kenck-Crispin: They’re basements stocked with No. 10 cans of peeled tomatoes.

Tribune: They don’t lead to a wharf?

Kenck-Crispin: No. The Shanghai Tunnels is an imagination.

Tribune: You’re blowing Portland’s image to smithereens here.

Kenck-Crispin: There’s reality, and there’s fantasy, and there’s a little gray area in between the two.

Tribune: You just described modern-day Portland. But the tunnels — what’s your proof?

Kenck-Crispin: It’s like Bigfoot. My proof is the absence of proof.

Tribune: Now you’re telling me Bigfoot doesn’t exist?

Kenck-Crispin: We don’t have any accounts of people being shanghaied through the basements of old pizzerias in old-time Portland. Shanghais in Portland occurred. It’s just that everything was literally above ground. The police were in on it. The harbormaster was in on it. There was no need to hide these activities in dark, dusty basements. And we don’t have any Bigfoot bones yet.

Tribune: You have any seedy Portland stories that turn out to be true?

Kenck-Crispin: In 1967 Mayor Terry Schrunk and the City Council passed an ordinance stating that women could not appear in public with one or more breasts substantially exposed. So the dancers at Mary’s Club started a new type of show. They did a bottomless dance.

Tribune: A favorite character from the seedy days?

Kenck-Crispin: Larry Sullivan was a crimper. That’s the proper term for a shanghai-er. He was a former boxer, a very pretty face. He didn’t get roughed up too much, and he ran a lot of the shanghaiing here in town. He did a London rules boxing match that lasted 77 rounds.

Tribune: Was he in it?

Kenck-Crispin: Yes. He was one of the boxers.

Tribune: He couldn’t have been too pretty after 77 rounds.

Kenck-Crispin: He singlehandedly turned off Portland to prizefighting after that disgusting afternoon. They ran out of water to sponge the boxers down so they had to use mud. It was a fight without gloves so they had to remove Sullivan’s fingers from Tom Ward’s eye socket.

Tribune: And hence the phrase “Socket to me.” Most fun you’ve had on a tour?

Kenck-Crispin: A lot of our bus tours involve quite a bit of alcohol. On Christmas Day we did a tour and ended at Mary’s Club because they are open 365 days a year. We gave the dancers candy canes with dollar bills tied to them.

Tribune: Wait a minute. What if you had on the tour some grandma from Dubuque?

Kenck-Crispin: I had 10 retired ladies come into Mary’s Club with me who had never been in a strip club before. They kept saying, “How does she do that in those heels?”