The photos snapped at Madison Square Garden on July 1, 1982, show hundreds of women wearing white dresses with high necklines, each holding a white bouquet and the arm of a man dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt and white gloves.
The couples form black-and-white lines that stretch across the arena floor and into the stands.
Many of the 2,000 Moonies had met only a few weeks earlier, when they were matched by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. But they were at the Garden that sweltering day for the largest wedding ceremony New York had ever hosted.
For some outsiders, the two-hour ceremony was an oddity, and the religion Moon had imported with him from South Korea seemed like a cult.
There is no record of how many of the couples legalized their marriages or how many remain together today. The Unification Church claims that Moon’s matches have a 5% divorce rate, far lower than the national rate of 50%.
Two men contacted by the Daily News who participated in the “blessing” that day had widely divergent experiences. One is still happily married to the woman the Rev. Moon chose for him 25 years ago; the other struggled for years to escape the church after his wife left him.
‘YOUR THINKING STARTS TO CHANGE’
Gordon Neufeld was looking for something when he ran into the Moonies in August of 1976 in San Francisco.
But at first, he had no idea who his new friends really were.
“I ended up going to their farm north of San Francisco,” he said. “They told me initially it would be a two-day or three-day thing.”
Neufeld didn’t agree with a lot of what the group was telling him about religion, but the people were “nice and friendly” and they kept persuading him to stay a “few more days,” he said.
“You keep going along with it and along with it and gradually your thinking starts to change,” he said. “I still didn’t know Rev. Moon was behind it.”
Even when he did figure it out a month or so later, he wasn’t worried. “I still had this idea for a long time that eventually I’d get to go back home,” said Neufeld, of Calgary.
But the group kept coming up with new things for him to do and urged him not to leave when his visitor visa expired.
He traveled to Los Angeles to work as a church fund-raiser, where most nights he was permitted to sleep only four or five hours.
“You were always told that since Rev. Moon doesn’t sleep, how dare you sleep?” he recalled.
In 1980, he traveled from Los Angeles to the New Yorker Hotel with other Moon disciples from all over the world. The men and women entered a large room, where Moon began matching couples by pointing at them.
“In theory, we were supposed to write each other and not worry about trying to visit each other,” said Neufeld, who was matched with an English woman. “We just knew that we were fiance’s, and off we went.”
Neufeld said the couple liked each other but that she was having trouble living apart from him, he said.
So he was relieved when Moon finally announced he would wed the couples on July 1, 1982. They had been living apart for nearly two years.
“As we walked over the dais, there was Rev. Moon on one side and his wife [Hak Ja Han] on the other,” Neufeld recalled. “They were splashing holy water on the couples. It was supposed to be some kind of blessing.”
Neufeld left the church after that and went back to his parents’ home in Calgary to get a job and prepare to bring his wife to the United States.
But the two years apart had been hard for her, he said. Neufeld’s “wife” wrote him a letter saying she was quitting the church and that “it was over.”
The two hadn’t consummated their marriage because of church rules and never got a legal marriage certificate.
A few years later, in 1990, his “wife” wrote to him asking him to come back to the church with her. He refused.
“From that moment on,” he said, “I knew that I had irrevocably turned my back on the church.”
‘MEANT FOR EACH OTHER’
Robin and Patricia Graham, of Irvington, N.Y., both knew immediately that Moon had picked well. They were meant for each other.
“I couldn’t help noticing the beautiful smile on her face,” Robin Graham, 55, said of the day he met Patricia, three years before the wedding.
Today, the couple have four “great kids” ages 23, 21, 18 and 13, he said, and a relationship that is stronger than ever. “As soon as I was introduced, it was a sense that we were meant for each other,” said the native of Newcastle upon Tyne.
At first, the couple’s parents were concerned that they had been “brainwashed,” he said. But over time, things changed.
“In this case, I can say the Rev. Moon or God through him really helped pick the right person for me,” he said.
Patricia Graham, 54, said she fell for her husband “the second I looked at him.”
The couple still practice the faith but don’t try to convert anyone, Robin Graham said. “The Unification Movement is saying that it’s through good marriage and healthy marriage that the world can change,” he said. “Everyone can agree with that.”