Dubbed the “ghost ship” by kayakers and explorers for years, the USS Sachem and USS Phenakite stand abandoned on a small creek just yards from the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. The story behind this unassuming vessel fascinated me, given its historical importance, it remains forgotten.
The USS Phenakite was constructed in 1902 as the private yacht Celt for J. Rogers Maxwell, a railroad executive, and 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 duty 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.
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 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 until October 1945.
The boat was then returned to Martin and renamed Sachem. It was subsequently sold to the Circle Line of New York City and became Circle Line’s flagship tour boat with seating for 500 until 1983. Over its run, it was named the Sightseer, CircleLine Sightseer, and Circle Line V.
In 1986, the ship was purchased by Robert Miller of Finneytown, Ohio, who had spied the vessel 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 Taylor Creek in Boone County, Kentucky, where Miller had planned to restore the vessel. Owing to a lack of funds, the Celt remains all but abandoned.