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Petersburg, Kentucky

USS Sachem Ruins

A ship that lived many lives under many names is now known merely as the "Ghost Ship." 

The Celt, USS Sachem, USS Phenakite, Sightseer, and the Circle Line V. No matter what this ruinous ship was once called, it is now simply the Ghost Ship.

Abandoned in off of Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1987, the ship that is now a favorite destination for kayakers was once an award winning navy ship that served proudly during both world wars. It served as a backdrop in a Madonna video, shuttled Thomas Edison about while he conducted war experiments, and attended Ronald Reagan’s re-lighting of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. So how did this celebrity vessel end up forgotten in the murky depths of the Ohio River?

Launched in 1902, the ship was originally intended as a luxury ride for a railroad mogul. 186 ft. of opulent yacht, the steam powered ship was a toy for the rich. Christened The Celt, a change of owners led to her second naming, the Sachem.

The Sachem became the USS Sachem when war erupted and the Navy acquired the small, speedy vessel to combat the German U-boats and countless submarines wreaking havoc on British-American supply lines. Manned with machine guns and depth charges, the USS Sachem became a secret weapon, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep the enemy at bay, so they turned to a great mind of the time for new innovative answers. That is when the USS Sachem became the place that Thomas Edison worked his magic. 

Edison used the ship as a place to conduct his experiments on creative ways to destroy the sub threats. Unfortunately, Edison found the military stifling and after a difficult relationship, lost his funding (and his fancy war yacht) in 1918. The war ended, and the Navy returned the ship to its civilian owner.

Her next life was as a fishing vessel in New York, but that quiet, recreational incarnation didn’t last long, as the Sachem was once again called into duty. This time, the Japanese had done the unthinkable and attacked the U.S. on home soil when a successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. head first into WWII. With new, shiny armaments, sonar equipment and a fancy new name, the USS Phenakite was once again rented by the Navy to guard the home front from the dastardly U-boats.

The vessel was once again returned after the war ended, never to be used in battle again. After serving in two wars, the ship was once again the Sachem, and sailed away from the conflicts with an American Campaign Medal and two Victory Medals, on from each world war. Purchased in the late 40s by a quickly-growing cruise line in New York City, the Sachem became a recreational vessel once again, starting her career as a cruise ship under the name Sightseer, and eventually ending it as its final identity, the Circle Line V, which is the faded name that can still be found on her hull today.

The cruise line eventually petered out, and the ship that had seen so much became outdated and obsolete. After being purchased and fixed up by private owner Robert Miller in 1986, the Circle Line V enjoyed one last hurrah when a representative for Madonna spotted the ship and asked if it could be used as part of a backdrop in the singer’s “Papa Don’t Preach” video. The pop music cameo was the final adventure for the eclectic but worn down vessel, and after being navigated down the Mississippi by Miller and his crew, she was anchored on a small tributary of the Ohio River on Miller’s property, never to sail again.

Know Before You Go

N 39° 04.876 W 084° 50.918

FROM I-275
Take exit 11 toward Petersburg
Merge onto KY-8 W/Idlewild Bypass W
Continue straight onto KY-20/Petersburg Rd
Turn right onto Lawrenceburg Ferry Rd
Destination will be on the left

Contributed by
treytatum
Edited by