The obituary for St. Vincent’s, when it is finally written, will recall that the hospital’s greatest moment—and its darkest—came in the eighties, as it found itself quite awkwardly in the thick of the global AIDS plague. The flood of patients was extreme, spilling into every available bed, then throughout the surrounding corridors, where masking tape marked off virtual rooms.
For anyone familiar with those rooms and those days, news of St. Vincent’s demise has been hard to accept. There is no true standing memorial to HIV victims, even though there were more from New York by 1995 than U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War. So the bland sarcophagus along Seventh Avenue holds that place in the geography of our plague memory; it is a museum, almost, a place haunted by Whitman’s “carols of Death.” We see the ghosts as we pass there even now, we hear their voices, their last words, we remember their weight in our arms, the way they vanished from those rooms.