"AIDS In New York: The First Five Years"

by Veronica Volk
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A group advocating AIDS research marches down Fifth Avenue 6/27/1983

Mario Suriani/Associated Press

New York Historical Society exhibition to open on June 7th.

It has been over three decades since the AIDS virus was first reported in New York City and education, treatment, and attitudes about the disease have come a long way.  On Friday, June 7th, the New York Historical Society will open its exhibition "AIDS In New York: The First Five Years" to the public.

AIDS Memorial Quilt panel honoring Roger Lyon (who died of AIDS complications in 1984), ca. 1987. Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

It can be easy to forget that there was a time when AIDS was a highly stigmatized death sentence.  Stepping through the entryway of the exhibit is like stepping into to that time.  An old newsreel playing from a turn-dial television in the center of the room tells you, "It's a disease first detected in the gay community that has now spread beyond that; a disease experts are now calling a national epidemic..."

Silence = Death poster, 1987. ACT UP New York records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.Using old news footage, journal entries, and photographs the New York Historical Society documents the first five years of AIDS in New York.  Several rooms are dedicated to the scientific discoveries, political conflicts, and social upheaval of the early '80s as thousands were infected with the new illness.

The society's President and CEO Louise Mirrer says she remembers coming to the city in the late '70s as a professor, and watching the situation unfold before her in a very personal way.

"Charles Lugo, who I'll never forget, who was a really brilliant student in one of my classes, got sick."

 

Dr. Mirrer says she watched her student, as well as a colleague of hers, die of the virus that was still so misunderstood.  She says she hopes the exhibit will educate people about the past as well as keep them informed about the continued risks and conflicts of the AIDS virus.

For more information about the exhibit and the New York Historical Society, click here.

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