Dubbed the “ghost ship” by kayakers and explorers for years, the USS Sachem and USS Phenakite stands abandoned on a small creek just yards from the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. The story behind this unassuming vessel fascinated me, for given its historical importance, it remains forgotten about.
The USS Phenakite, constructed in 1902 as the private yacht Celt for J. Rogers Maxwell, a railroad executive, was later sold to Manton B. Metcalf of New York and renamed the Sachem.
The Sachem, acquired by the United States Navy in July 1917 shortly after the nation entered World War I, was placed into service as the USS Sachem (SP 192) in August and used as a coastal patrol yacht. During its service under the Navy, the boat was loaned to Thomas Edison who conducted government funded anti-submarine warfare and ocean communication experiments on it in the Caribbean.
After World War I concluded, the USS Sachem was returned to Metcalf in February 1919 and later sold to Roland L. Taylor, a Philadelphia banker, who rechristened it Merchant Sachem.
During the height of the Great Depression in 1932, the Sachem was sold to Captain Jacob “Jake” Martin who converted it into a community fishing boat. Families pooled their money together to pay a fee of about $2 to send a family member on the Sachem to catch large fish for food.
During World War II, the boat was reacquired by the United States Navy and converted into wartime service. It was commissioned as USS Phenakite (PYc-25) and patrolled the waters off of the Florida Keys. It underwent structural modifications and placed back into service in November 1944 where it was used to test various sonar systems before being put out of service in October 1945.
The boat was then returned to Martin and renamed Sachem before being sold to the Circle Line of New York City and renamed Sightseer and then CircleLine Sightseer and Circle Line V. With a capacity of 500, it was Circle Line’s flagship vessel and used as a tour boat until 1983.
The boat was purchased by Robert Miller of Finneytown, Ohio in 1986 who saw the boat in the Hudson River in West New York, New Jersey. During the time it spent in the New York City area, a music executive spotted the vessel and approached Miller, desiring to use the boat for background in Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach music video.
Shortly before it left New York, Miller filled the Sachem with guests and docked at the Statue of Liberty during its re-dedication celebration on July 4, 1986. The boat was then relocated to a plot of land Miller owned along Taylor Creek in Boone County, Kentucky via the Erie Canal, Mississippi River and the Ohio River. Destined to be restored, it was instead abandoned.