The first buyer reneged when the U.S. Coast Guard refused to let him visit the abandoned lighthouse before paying for it in full, which seemed too risky an investment. So officials put it up for sale again.
Richard Neal, after losing the first auction, offered a sealed bid of exactly $11,262 before later agreeing to pay $85,000. But he tells people he bought the lighthouse by accident.
“Maybe ‘accidentally’ isn’t the right word,” he admits. “Unexpectedly. Surprisingly. I really didn’t think I would be the only one to make a bid.”
The obvious question is why would Neal — why would anybody — want the place?
The old lighthouse stands 34 miles off the shore of North Carolina, where the lonely beacon sits atop a 140-foot tall flat metal platform surrounded by the ocean. The roof leaks. The structure is rusting. It has no air conditioning. And it’s accessible only by boat or helicopter.
Neal loves it.
The Coast Guard built the lighthouse in 1964 to keep ships away from the Frying Pan Shoals, a shallow, rocky stretch of ocean known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, with more than 100 documented shipwrecks, some dating back to the early days of European exploration.
Satellite navigation rendered the lighthouse obsolete and it sat abandoned and decaying for six years until 2010, when the Coast Guard decided to find out if anybody was crazy enough to buy it.
Now 59 years old, Neal grew up near 57th Street and Yale Avenue when houses in the area were new and most of the trees recently planted.
“They were just twigs, really,” Neal says.
He liked to climb. So his parents built a wooden platform in the backyard, and Neal used to lie on the flat deck at night and stare up the stars. At least, what few stars he could see from the bright city.
He owned the lighthouse for a couple of years before an epiphany hit him and he could finally answer the question that everybody — well, almost everybody — kept asking him. That he kept asking himself.
He called home.
“Mom, I bought my tree house,” he explained.
“Oh, I knew that,” she said. “I knew that all along.”
Living in Charlotte, North Carolina, Neal spends about one weekend a month on the platform, which has eight bedrooms and 6,500 square feet of living space. He briefly used it as an “adventure bed and breakfast,” but it proved too adventurous.
“It’s not an entirely safe place to visit,” Neal says. “I always had to worry about somebody falling overboard.”
More recently, he began selling fractional shares, with five investors already on board and a sixth in negotiations. They’re hoping to find a few more eccentric souls who are willing to help renovate the tower and simply share it with the other owners as “the most remote vacation home in the world.”
It’s as quiet and peaceful as any place on Earth, except maybe during hurricane season. And when Neal lies on the deck at night to stare up at the stars, the view looks even more spectacular than he remembers from his childhood in Tulsa.
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