The AIDS Quilt, now more than four times larger than when it was first unveiled a year ago, completed a national tour in Washington Saturday.
The 8,288 panels, spread across the Ellipse near the White House, offered brightly colored tributes to individual victims of the deadly disease."It's a beautiful thing, but it's built on corpses," said Cleve Jones, who conceived the quilt project after a friend died of AIDS in 1986.
Throughout the day, friends, relatives and project supporters read off the names of the dead. The readers included actresses Shirley MacLaine, Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth McGovern, and Rep. Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass. Kitty Dukakis, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, was to have joined them, but her plane was delayed due to mechanical troubles.
On a sunny but chilly fall day, thousands of people walked slowly along the aisles separating the panels and paused to read inscriptions from friends and family. The AIDS quilt project printed a guide, like that at the Vietnam War Memorial several blocks away, to help those who were searching for the location of a particular panel among the thousands.
Although the quilt covered most of the Ellipse, a six-block park between the White House and the Washington Monument, its panels represent only about one in five persons who have died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome since 1981.
The AIDS quilt was unveiled in Washington last October during a weekend rally and march to press for gay rights. Since then, the quilt has been displayed in 20 cities across the country.
Future plans for the quilt are uncertain, projects organizers said.