I think it was 1989, but it could have been 1988. If I only blogged back then, I would have a better idea than just finding a bunch of pictures in a shoebox. But I remember going to the original showing of the Names Project in 1987, but not bringing my camera. I went to DC to be a part of the National March on Washington for Gay & Lesbian Rights, and saw the it. Spread across the mall, there was what seemed like miles of fabric set up in a symmetrical pattern, a beautiful patchwork quilt. People were wondering around, looking at individual 'patches.' I knew what it was, but the sheer size was jolting, at first so pretty, but then just jarring that so many had died to bring this beauty into existence. As I got closer, the dark lines I thought were thread were people on their knees touching the panels of loved ones. There weren't a few milling around, but many, and most were emotionally touched by the experience. I made my way through, and happened across a panel of someone I had known, and it stopped me in my tracks. I knew him in NYC, but he had left to return to his family, and we had lost touch. I guess this meant he had passed away, the disease had taken him away. I froze, and felt a tear run down my cheek. My mind raced, unable to really grasp it all, keeping me still. Someone came up and touched my shoulder, and asked if I was alright. They were a volunteer, specifically there for those who needed comfort. I thanked them, stood there with tears falling, and said I was OK, just needed a moment to come to grips with my grief. They stood with me, hand on my shoulder, until I could breathe again.
Click to enlarge individual pictures
I returned in 1989, with friends and feeling much better prepared for what I would see. I brought a camera, capturing my memories. But no matter how well prepared you think you are, there are some things you will never be ready to see. The squares are such personal statements from loved ones, so many touch your soul, even if you didn't know the person at all.
The Names Project was started by Cleve Jones, based on something he noticed when organizing an annual march for Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco. As more people were claimed by AIDS, he asked people to make placards of those who had passed and hung them on a wall of the Federal Building. He thought it looked like a quilt once the names were hung. From that sprung The Names Project, and the Quilt. For more information about the Names Project, to donate, host a display, or submit a square, click here.