Pieces Of AIDS Quilt Blanket Nation's Capital

  • Visitors tour portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display at the National Mall this week.
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    Visitors tour portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display at the National Mall this week.
    Ebony Bailey/NPR
  • A sunrise ceremony is held in 1987 in Washington, near part of the quilt bearing the names of people who have died of AIDS.
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    A sunrise ceremony is held in 1987 in Washington, near part of the quilt bearing the names of people who have died of AIDS.
    Scott Stewart/AP
  • Thousands of people examine the individual panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt as it is displayed in Washington in 1992.
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    Thousands of people examine the individual panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt as it is displayed in Washington in 1992.
    Stephen R. Brown/AP
  • Volunteers lay out the quilt on the grounds of the Washington Monument in 1992.
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    Volunteers lay out the quilt on the grounds of the Washington Monument in 1992.
    Wilfredo Lee/AP
  • Then-President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton visit the quilt on the Mall in 1992, when it was made up of 40,000 panels that covered the equivalent of 24 football fields.
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    Then-President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton visit the quilt on the Mall in 1992, when it was made up of 40,000 panels that covered the equivalent of 24 football fields.
    Jamal Wilson/AFP/Getty Images
  • Marchers carry portions of the quilt through the Mall during a 2001 march in observance of the 20th year of public awareness of HIV and AIDS.
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    Marchers carry portions of the quilt through the Mall during a 2001 march in observance of the 20th year of public awareness of HIV and AIDS.
    David La Spina/AFP/Getty Images

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The AIDS Memorial Quilt is too big to display all in one piece. Since 1987, it has grown to more than 48,000 panels that honor the lives of more than 94,000 people who have died of AIDS. The last time the whole quilt was shown together was in 1996, on the National Mall. Now it's back in Washington, D.C., for its 25th anniversary.

Because of its size — put together, the whole quilt would stretch more than 50 miles — it's being displayed in pieces all over the city. Hundreds of quilt panels, made by the friends and families of those who have died, have been spread out on the National Mall, each one measuring 3 feet by 6 feet — the size of a human grave. Volunteers will rotate the panels, featuring more than 8,000 every day.

Julie Rhoad is executive director of the NAMES Project Foundation, which preserves, displays and collects new panels for the quilt. She says that in the late '80s and early '90s, the quilt grew by up to 11,000 panels a year. Now, it's around one or two a day.

Rhoad says she would love to find the AIDS Memorial Quilt a home where it could serve as a permanent reminder that those who have died are not just statistics — they were real people.

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