Rivers Cosmogram – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura
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New York, New York

Rivers Cosmogram

A memorial marks the library lobby where Langston Hughes' ashes are buried. 

The ashes of one of America’s best poets are buried in the floor of a New York City library.

In 1921, when the poet Langston Hughes was just 19, his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published. Seventy years later, on what would have been his 89th birthday, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture held a ceremony around the public art installation made in his honor. His ashes were buried in a small vessel beneath the polished terrazzo floor.

The installation, named Rivers, is in the Langston Hughes lobby of the Schomburg Center, a part of the New York Public Library system.

Inspired by Hughes’ poem, the artist Houston Conwill made the memorial to honor Hughes and Arturo A. Schomburg, the library’s namesake. The cosmogram quotes lines from the poem: The final line—”My soul has grown deep like the rivers”—is in the circle’s center.

Lines flowing through the piece connect the places Hughes and Schomberg were born—Missouri and Puerto Rico—with Harlem. The lines and signs are meant to be a tribute to African ritual ground markings, “weaving a web of connections between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, the past and the present,” the library says.

Know Before You Go

The library is open Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.