Six memorials to check out on World AIDS Day – virtually and in-person

December 1 is World AIDS Day: a time to remember those lost to HIV and raise awareness of the issues the virus still poses. There remains no cure or vaccine but with modern treatment, HIV is a manageable condition. Those living with the virus and receiving treatment can expect to live a normal life span. They also cannot transmit the virus to others if they have a sustained, undetectable viral load.

However, World AIDS Day remains an important date on the calendar, to remind us to never take the gains we’ve made for granted and to push forward to achieve the goal of reducing HIV transmission to zero.

Here are five AIDS memorials to remember those that have gone before.

National AIDS Memorial Grove – San Francisco

An engraved rock at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco
An engraved rock at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco

The National AIDS Memorial Grove can be found in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The idea for it first came up in 1989 when the city was in the grip of the AIDS epidemic. Its aim is to provide a healing sanctuary for those impacted by HIV and the loss of loved ones. It remains a beautifully tended woodland grotto to explore and a place of quiet contemplation. As you find yourself walking beneath the fronds of giant ferns, you’ll spot the many rocks engraved with the names of those lost to AIDS.

The New York City AIDS Memorial

New York City AIDS Memorial
The New York City AIDS Memorial (Photo: Fulbert/CC by-SA 4.0)

Over 100,000 people in New York are believed to have died of HIV-related illness since the early 1980s. New York City’s AIDS Memorial, unveiled on World AIDS Day in 2016, lies at St Vincent’s Triangle in Greenwich Village – at the junction of 12th Street, Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue. The location is symbolic: the nearby St Vincent’s Hospital housed the biggest AIDS ward in the country in the 1980s. The memorial, an 18-foot steel sculpture composed of multiple triangles, reaches up into the sky. There’s also a water-filled reflecting fountain and granite engraved with lines from Walt Whitman’s poem, ‘Song of Myself’.

Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in New York City


Several churches house chapels dedicated to remembering the lives of those lost to HIV. The first to appear the US was the National AIDS Memorial at the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in Upper Manhattan. It was inaugurated on 9 November 1985. It consists of a Memorial Book, containing the names of some of those lost, and a memorial banner. The church also has a triptych by famed graffiti artist Keith Haring, entitled The Life of Christ. Haring himself died in 1990 at the age of 31 of HIV-related illness, and his memorial service took place at the church.

Key West, Florida

Key West AIDS Memorial
(Photo: Friends of the AIDS Memorial)

Key West in Florida is another part of the US that lost many local residents to AIDS. It unveiled its AIDS memorial in 1997. It lies at White Street and Atlantic Boulevard, at the entrance to the White Street Pier – a particularly beautiful and serene spot. The memorial consists of several Zimbabwe granite slabs engraved with poems and the names of over a thousand people. Each World AIDS Day, it is the site of a candlelit march. Those whose names are engraved are also listed at KeyWestAids.org.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt

Panels from the AIDS Quilt

The idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt originated in 1985 with the San Francisco-based LGBTQ activist, Cleve Jones. That year, he once again organized an annual march to commemorate the murder of slain councilman Harvey Milk, but he also asked people to bring names on placards of those lost to AIDS. Placed together alonside one another, they resembled a quilt.

The following year, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt project was born, and people immediately began making quilt panels in memory of friends, lovers, or family who had died. The first exhibition of the quilt took place in October 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It featured almost 2,000 panels, growing to 6,000 by the end of a national tour in 1988.

It has continued to grow since that time and now has over 48,000 panels. Exhibitions, museums and schools often borrow panels for show, and in 2020, the quilt went online. You can now view all the panels and search for names at aidsmemorial.org.

Related: Now you can see all 48,000 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt online

The AIDS Memorial Instagram account

 

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If you want to read stories about those lost to AIDS, one of the best online resources is the Instagram and Facebook account, @TheAIDSMemorial). Launched in 2016, its creator wanted to share photos and information about lives he felt were being forgotten. At first, he posted photos of famous people who had died, but soon people began contacting him with photos and memorials of their own loved ones. Each story is heartbreaking. They serve testament to the love felt for these people, and how their loss impacted those still alive. There are now many hundreds of entries, with more being added every day.

 

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Related: His family said he died from “a bad case of the flu,” but it was AIDS