In July 1987, the tiny town of Williamson, West Virginia—population 5,600—became part of the national discussion about AIDS. Mike Sisco, a man from Williamson who had tested positive for AIDS, took a dip in the local swimming pool. Word spread quickly, and by the next day fear, panic and rumors—including one that claimed Mike had spit on food at a grocery store—had forced the pool to be closed and prompted a front-page banner headline in the local newspaper.
Watch Mike tell Oprah his story in his own words.
Mike says that when he went swimming at the Williamson pool, the lifeguard was the first person to recognize him, but soon the other bathers did as well. "They kind of ran like in those science fiction movies where Godzilla walks into the street."
This wasn't the first time the community had reacted negatively to seeing Mike in public. He says he returned to Williamson after contracting AIDS while living in Dallas. He says his illness quickly became known in the community through the whispers of small-town gossip.
Williamson residents were not alone in their incorrect fears that AIDS can spread through casual contact—through sweat or saliva, from kissing, in swimming pools and even on doorknobs.