The nickname Slabtown was first used in the 1880s for the “tenderloin” district just behind the Port of Portland in what is now called Oldtown and stretching westward from the river to today’s Pearl District. This was an area of Sailor’s boardinghouses, saloons and brothels. In fact there was a solid block known as Whitechapel (from NW Couch to Davis between NW 3rd and 4th Aves) made up of tiny prostitute cribs, little stalls just big enough for a bed where women lived and worked. Erickson’s Saloon, with the longest bar in the west, was in this area. This was the time of Bunco Kelly, king of the Crimps (a Crimp kidnapped sailors for service on a ship) and the Three Sirens of Portland, Liverpool Liz, Mary Cook and Nancy Boggs. I intend to tell you about the careers of these people and many more over the coming days.
This rough part of town was known as Slabtown, because it was said if you went there it was likely you’d end up on a slab, if not on a China-bound ship. I like to use the nickname for Portland in general, especially when I am talking about the history of violent crime in this area. Portland is an orderly and pretty quiet town, but there is a wide streak of violence that has existed here since the earliest times.
I have spent endless hours pouring over microfilms of The Oregonian dating back to 1850 with one goal in mind; to collect a detailed chronological history of murder in Portland. This was a project I called the Slabtown Chronology. Although it is not complete it is a very extensive history from 1850 to 1999, the Chronology and the research notes I made during that project will be the source material for my new blog.
The Slabtown Chronology was a bare-bones, “just the facts” chronological history. Now it has evolved into the Slabtown Chronicle where I can explore the crimes I have documented in a more creative way. I hope you like it.