USS Sachem (SP-192): ‘The Ghost Ship’ That Served in Both World Wars and Now Sits Abandoned in the Wilderness

Photo Credit: Bain News Service / Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division / No Known Restrictions (Colorized by
Photo Credit: Bain News Service / Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division / No Known Restrictions (Colorized by

There are many abandoned ships across the United States, but few have as storied a history as the USS Sachem (SP-192), which also went by the names USS Phenakite (PYc-25), Celt, Sightseer, Circle Line V and, today, The Ghost Ship (yeah, it’s a bit much). A relic of the early 1900s, the yacht was twice acquired by the US Navy, transforming her from a luxury vessel into one that was worthy of serving her country in the midst of conflict.

From luxury steam yacht to US Navy patrol yacht

Celt moored in a harbor
Celt, prior to the US entry into World War I, 1917. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The USS Sachem‘s story begins in 1901, when the ship was ordered by railroad engineer J. Rogers Maxwell. Constructed by Pusey & Jones out of Wilmington, Delaware, the vessel, under the name Celt, was launched in April of the next year, and she served as a luxury steam yacht up until the United States entered the First World War.

With the outbreak of the conflict, the US Navy began looking for civilian ships to commandeer for coastal defense, as the Germans had begun attacking supply lines between America and Europe. Celt was one such vessel to be acquired for military service, being renamed Sachem.

USS Sachem (SP-192) during World War I

Crew of the USS Sachem (SP-192) standing with Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison with the USS Sachem‘s (SP-192) crew, 1917. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)

The USS Sachem subsequently underwent modifications, which saw her sides raised to allow her to become more seaworthy, the removal of her masts and the sealing of her ornate brass, the addition of navigational equipment and the fringing of the yacht’s portholes. A new complement of armament was also provided, to ensure she and her crew could fight against any enemy presence in the Atlantic. This featured:

  • Depth charge racks
  • One Ordnance QF Hotchkiss six-pounder deck gun
  • Two QF three-pounder Hotchkiss deck guns
  • Two light machine guns

Sachem served with the Third Maritime District during the early part of her naval service, patroling the East Coast, down to the Caribbean. In 1917, she was turned into a “floating laboratory” by famed inventor Thomas Edison, who conducted a number of experiments in his quest to develop effective U-boat countermeasures.

By the time the First World War came to an end, Sachem hadn’t experienced active combat, nor had she reported a confirmed sighting of an enemy submarine. For her and her crew’s service during the conflict, the yacht received the World War I Victory Medal.

Interwar period

Jacob Martin aiming a rifle while aboard a ship at sea
Capt. Jacob Martin, 1925. (Photo Credit: Keystone View Company / FPG / Archive Photos / Getty Images)

Following the conclusion of the First World War, the USS Sachem was returned to Manton B. Metcalf, who’d purchased the vessel from J. Rogers Maxwell’s wife following his death. It was later sold to Roland L. Taylor, a Philadelphia-based banker who used the yacht as an at-sea rum runner ship during Prohibition.

In 1932, in the early years of the Great Depression, Taylor sold Sachem to Jacob Martin of Brooklyn, New York. Looking to earn some money during the economic downtown, he operated the yacht with dual purposes; along with serving as a deep-sea fishing vessel, she also earned a fair amount of money as a luxury passenger ship.

Renamed the USS Phenakite (PYc-25) during World War II

Celt leaving port
Celt, later known as the USS Sachem (SP-192) and Phenakite (PYc-25), date unknown. (Photo Credit: Bain News Service / George Bain Collection at the Library of Congress / No Known Restrictions)

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the US Navy, again, began looking for civilian vessels to help in America’s defense. In February 1942, the service reacquired the USS Sachem for $65,000, transiting her to Robert Jacobs, Inc. in City Island, New York for modifications. These included new equipment; speed, armor and visibility upgrades; and a newer gray-haze paint scheme.

Just like in World War I, Sachem, by then re-designated the USS Phenakite, saw various types of armament installed on her deck. The weapons added this time around were:

Phenakite spent the first part of her renewed service with the Navy patroling the East Coast, under the command of Lt. John D. Lennon. In late 1944, she underwent a refit, which saw her use widen to also include convoy escort and sonar system testing as part of the Fleet Sonar School Squadron and the Key West Squadron.

Similar to the earlier conflict, the yacht didn’t see active combat. That being said, her crew received both the World War II Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal. Following the conflict, she was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register.

Left abandoned in a Kentucky creek

USS Sachem (SP-192) beached at the end of Taylor Creek
USS Sachem (SP-192) abandoned in Taylor Creek, Boone County, Kentucky, 2014. (Photo Credit: Kylen Louanne / Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Following World War II, Jacob Martin purchased the USS Phenakite back from the US Navy for $5,353. She was then sold to the Circle Line in New York City, serving as a tour boat under the name Circle Line V until 1983.

In 1986, Cincinnati, Ohio, resident Robert Miller purchased the yacht for $7,500. After a celebratory weekend in New York City over the July 4 long weekend, which saw the vessel make a cameo in the music video for Madonna‘s “Papa Don’t Preach,” Miller journeyed back to his home along the Ohio-Kentucky border. He subsequently moored the ship at the mouth of Taylor Creek, in Boone County, Kentucky, where she’s remained ever since.

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Unable to afford the upkeep of the yacht, Miller left her to rust away in the water. While on private property, what remains of the vessel has become a popular sight for kayakers and canoers traveling along Taylor Creek. Given her decrepit state, she has since been dubbed “The Ghost Ship.”

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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