In just two month’s time, North Carolina newlyweds Ben and Audrey Black planned their wedding in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Last Saturday, thirty-two miles offshore and 135 feet above the water, the couple from Topsail Island tied the knot, becoming the first to get married on top of Frying Pan Tower—exactly one year after Ben’s first trip to the tower.
Fifteen years ago, Ben heard about Frying Pan and was immediately drawn to its history and connection to North Carolina. When the U.S. government put the decommissioned lighthouse, near Cape Fear, up for auction in 2010, Ben placed a bid. But current owner Richard Neal bid higher. “Thankfully, I did not win,” Ben says. “I had no business being the owner of Frying Pan Tower, I just thought it’d be cool.” Instead of achieving ownership, Ben became a volunteer to help restore the structure, working with Neal years later.
After Neal’s acquisition, he transformed the old but sturdy former Coast Guard light and weather station into a bed-and-breakfast. The platform, which was built in 1964, needed some updates—it came as a bare shell with no electricity. Neal’s goal has always been to restore and preserve the tower and to protect the surrounding marine environment, and ecotourism plays a significant role in funding his nonprofit, FPTower Inc. And if a couple wants to get married during their weekend stay, so be it.
About two months before the wedding, Ben reached out to Neal to host his wedding. Neal warned the couple that it would be a lot of work. Other couples previously asked to be wed on the tower, but the timing was never right or the improvements the tower needed were too daunting.
Neal harnessed the power of Frying Pan Tower’s Facebook page and asked its 200,000-plus followers for help. The community responded: Wilmington-area businesses and volunteers from around the country came out to donate their time and items the tower still needed, like a new refrigerator, air conditioner, and generator. The rush to get things ready in the few weeks before the wedding was like “cramming for the midterm final,” Neal says. “This would not have happened if it were not for the work, the efforts, the time of Richard and the many volunteers,” Ben says. “A million thanks to all those who sacrificed their weekends, their weeks, their time, and their effort to make our wedding so special.”
The wedding party of thirteen arrived at the Frying Pan by helicopter the day before the ceremony and stayed at the bed-and-breakfast for two nights. “The bride was so excited and so happy she literally jumped out of her shoes on the helipad and was dancing around,” Neal says. That night, photographer Jeff Wenzel convinced Audrey and Ben to push the next day’s ceremony back an hour to capture the best lighting in photos. On Saturday at 7:20 p.m., minutes before the sunset, the ceremony began on Frying Pan’s helipad. The night ended with fireworks shot up and out over the water. “You have this image in your mind of how your wedding is going to be as a little girl,” Audrey says. “And it was just a thousand times better.”