The mass weddings at Madison Square Garden and the roses sold by eager evangelists on street corners may be the most enduring images of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church in the United States.
But Moon’s U.S. empire extended far beyond the movement and the Moonies, as Moon’s followers were both affectionately and irreverently known. Moon had holdings in media, real estate, universities and even sushi sales.
A look at Moon and the Unification Church’s influence around the U.S.:
Moon introduced the mass weddings he started in Seoul to the U.S. with a 1982 wedding at New York’s Madison Square Garden, drawing over 2,000 people, all dressed alike in suits and satin dresses. In 2009, as he turned 90, the church said Moon married 45,000 people in simultaneous ceremonies worldwide in his first large-scale mass wedding in years. Tens of thousands in the U.S. participated in Moon’s "blessing ceremonies," many at the Manhattan Center, an event space owned by the church.
Moon founded the Washington Times in 1982 as a conservative voice in the nation’s capital. At one time, he owned newspapers in New York, Japan and South America. A church subsidiary purchased the United Press International news service over a decade ago.
Moon underwrote the operations of the Washington Times for years as an alternative to the larger Washington Post. The newspaper cultivated a generation of conservative journalists, but also struggled financially recently as it faced declining circulation along with many other newspapers nationwide.
The Times cut about 40 percent of its staff at one point and eliminated its sports section. As Moon aged and transferred control of his media empire to his children, management shake-ups followed at the Times, which also found itself in court over the religious beliefs of the Moon family. The newspaper’s former opinion editor sued in 2009 claiming he was pressured by executives to attend a Unification Church event.
Moon’s holdings include The New Yorker Hotel, an Art Deco landmark near Penn Station in midtown Manhattan; the Manhattan Center, with event spaces that include The Hammerstein Ballroom. The church owned several estates and buildings in Irvington and Tarrytown, New York, north of the city, including Moon’s 17-acre (seven-hectare) estate.
The Unification Church rescued the financially troubled University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, which nearly closed in 1991 because of money problems. The Professors World Peace Academy, which was funded by the church, gave $110 million to the school over a dozen years ending in 2003.
At the time, Moon and the academy envisioned creating a network of universities around the world, with each campus open to students and faculty of the others. In 1995, Moon visited UB for the first time and gave a nearly hour-long speech as he received an honorary degree. Opponents, dubbing the school "Moonie U.," protested outside.
University spokeswoman Leslie Geary said Sunday that school officials were thankful for the church’s support.
"The Rev. Moon supported the university during a difficult time," Geary said.
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