Kayakers Stumble on Abandoned Ghost Ship in Ohio River–You’ll Never Believe Where It’s Been

June 1, 2019 Updated: June 6, 2019

A small group of kayakers ventured down a tributary in search of an abandoned “ghost ship” moored off the Ohio River. They paddled down the quiet stream until at last they spotted the boat’s unmistakable, shadowy silhouette. The broken canopy of trees cast rays of sunlight and shadows eerily across the dilapidated, rusted hull.

The wreck had run aground and was overgrown with vegetation, resting quietly in the shade. They clamored up the side of the abandoned ship onto its sightseeing deck, which now just looks out on a deserted wood-scape.

The ship is over a century old, and it looks its age. It’s also seen some incredible adventures throughout its years. In fact, its story might surprise you.

The old ship has been there for almost 30 years, but its history predates the 20th century. The fascinating vessel has seen some extraordinary episodes in American history play out.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a railroad executive named J. Rogers Maxwell commissioned a Delaware ship builder to craft the luxury yacht after he heard how the company had built the first steel-hulled yacht in 1887. The yacht was christened Celt, and she set sail on her maiden voyage in 1902.

In 1914, the Celt was sold to Manton B. Metcalf, who renamed her Sachem. When WWI broke out, the U.S. Navy was looking for boats to use that were quick enough to outmaneuver the German subs. The United States officially entered the war in April 1917. Sachem fit the bill.

She was 186 feet in length and was what the Navy had in mind. Sachem joined the fleet and was converted into a Navy vessel, furnishing her with machine guns and depth charges to be used to obliterate subs on the coastline of the United States. She became SP 192 USS Sachem.

The famous inventor of the light bulb and the power grid, Thomas Edison was employed by the government to devise a strategy to combat the U-boats. He apparently boarded the USS Sachem, and they voyaged as far as Florida and near the Caribbean.

Sachem completed her mission and was returned to the rightful owner in 1919. The boat was pawned off in 1932 during the Great Depression. Sachem was used as a fishing vessel for a decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.

The U.S. Navy then bought the fishing yacht for $65,000 in 1942 and converted her into a patrol vessel, once again in the service of her country. She was renamed PYc-25 and resumed patrolling the U.S. coast.

After the war, Martin got his yacht back. He then sold her to Circle Line charter company, and she became New York City’s flagship tour boat. She held around 500 passengers, and she boated proudly around the city harbor for decades until in 1983, when Robert Miller bought the ship, already in a dilapidated state, for $7,500.

He was soon approached by the music industry, and the yacht was featured in Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” music video.

Sachem continued cruising for a while until Miller took her to Northern Kentucky, where she was moored for the last time, 25 miles from Cincinnati, in a tributary just off the Ohio River.

Now, the abandoned ghost ship can still be seen from the road near the previous owner’s property, but visitors are not welcomed by land, as apparently, would-be adventurers have been chased from the area with shotguns. Accessing the boat by kayak or canoe would be safer should one wish to admire this incredible relic.