Pieces of the AIDS quilt on the National Mall in 1996.
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.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.