When it was first displayed in the nation’s capital in 1988, the AIDS quilt was about a city block long.
With eight more years of deaths from the epidemic, the colorful patchwork remembering the victims now stretches nearly a mile from the Washington Monument to the foot of the Capitol.
Even so, the full quilt - on display this weekend for the first time in four years - commemorates only about 11 percent of Americans who have died from AIDS.
“I have several friends who will be laid out in the panels,” said Joe Wassam, a Takoma Park, Md., volunteer helping put the quilt down on the grassy Mall. “This is a way of being back with them.”
The quilt, bearing the names of more than 70,000 people on 38,000 panels, is the centerpiece of dozens of weekend events sponsored by several groups, designed to again focus attention on the epidemic.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to see the quilt over the long Columbus Day weekend.
Friendly crowds greeted President Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton when they strolled, sometimes hand in hand, through sections of the sun-dappled quilt in late afternoon.
“This means a lot to us,” someone shouted. “We love you,” cried another.
Another volunteer thanked Clinton for being the first president to visit the quilt. When it was here in 1988, President Reagan was in office; in 1992, it was President Bush.
The Clintons, both with somber expressions, stopped for a minute or more to inspect several individual quilt panels. Returning briefly to campaign mode, Clinton waved to the crowd as he walked back to his car.
Earlier Friday, with throngs already crowding the black fabric walks between quilt panels, Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, joined poet Maya Angelou and others to read aloud some of the names displayed on the quilts.
As with the nearby Vietnam War memorial, family and friends of the victims touched panels, wrote messages, prayed, cried or remembered them in their own way. Flowers lay beside some panels, one with a card signed “Love Always. Mom.”
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