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Finding Marwencol, Belgium, in the Hudson River Valley

The story of Mark Hogancamp is one of heartbreak and inspiration. Mark Hogancamp, a Hudson Valley native from Kingston, New York, is the creator of the small, ever-changing art installation known as Marwencol, located in Kingston. On April 8, 2000, Hogancamp was brutally beaten by a group of young men outside of a local bar after he told the group of men that he was a cross dresser and enjoys wearing women’s shoes. The assault resulted in Hogancamp being in a coma for nine days and hospitalized for 40 days, with doctors saying that he was lucky to be alive. When his insurance could no longer cover his hospital expenses or therapy, Hogancamp was discharged from the hospital and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury that left him with zero memory of his life prior to the attack. In order to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and the loss of memory, Hogancamp used his artistic abilities to build Marwencol.

Marwencol portrays a small, war-torn Belgian town during World War II, defended from invading Nazi forces by several dolls, including one doll named Captain Hogie, who represents Hogancamp’s fantasized braver avatar of himself. While Hogancamp struggled in the aftermath of the attack and believed he was lonely and weak, Captain Hogie leads a group of female dolls in defending tiny Marwencol from the Nazi juggernaut. Captain Hogie portrays a strong leader and confident individual able to stand up to the Nazis, who represent Hogancamp’s attackers. The other female dolls represent his close friends who stuck by his side through his rehabilitation. The Nazi invaders regularly meet their doom at the hands of Marwencol’s defenders, allowing the small town to represent a sanctuary in which Hogancamp could recover peacefully from the attack and the traumatic memories stemming from it.

Mark Hogancamp’s work was discovered by professional photographer David Naugle in the fall of 2005, who documented Hogancamp’s work and creativity and shared his story with Esopus magazine. Hogancamp’s work was eventually shared publicly at the White Columns art gallery in June of 2006 and thus began Hogancamp rise to prominence in the art and photography industry. In 2010, a documentary produced by Jeff Malmberg named Marwencol was released. It tells the story about the attack that nearly ended Hogancamp’s life and his inspirational and beautiful coping mechanism portrayed through the town of Marwencol. The documentary received critical acclaim and brought visitors from around the Hudson Valley and New York State to Hogancamp’s doorstep, all wanting to catch a glimpse inside Hogancamp’s imagination and learn more about his story and the town of Marwencol.

PBS interviewed Malmberg in 2011.

The documentary is cited by famous director Robert Zemeckis (known for his production of Forrest Gump) as his inspiration to begin work on a film-adaptation of Mark Hogancamp’s story. The result was a movie titled Welcome to Marwen starring Steve Carell as Mark Hogancamp and Captain Hogie. The film received mixed reviews, but most were unfortunately negative. Additionally, the film was a box office bomb. Many critics were disappointed by the film’s poor scripting and disjointed storytelling. While the actors, especially Carell, overall received praise for their performances, the movie’s lack of inspirational impact and subpar storytelling caused it to be largely overlooked and unsuccessful at the box office.

Despite the failures of Welcome to Marwen, Mark Hogancamp’s story of recovery and success in the face of tragedy remains inspirational and timeless. Hogancamp is now a successful photographer and continues his work on Marwencol, nearly two decades after the project began. His use of imagination as a coping mechanism has inspired others across the country. And while his attackers may have stripped him of his past memories and past life, Hogancamp’s efforts portray how love and hope proved impossible for his attackers and a cruel world to take away. Since his first public art showing at the White Columns in New York City in 2006, Hogancamp’s work has been exhibited publicly in multiple galleries, including the Allouche Gallery, NY and the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in New Paltz, NY. Today, his work is represented by the One Mile Gallery in Kingston, NY.

– James O’Donnell, Marist ’19

Meet the Intern: James O’Donnell

JamesObiopicJames O’Donnell was born in Stony Brook, Long Island in the historic state of New York and grew up in the small Hudson Valley town of Hopewell Junction, New York all his life. He graduated from John Jay Senior High School in June of 2015 and began his college career as a commuter student at Marist College in August of 2015. While not his top choice school, but he is very happy to be at Marist and can no longer picture himself attending school anywhere else. James is majoring in History/Adolescent Education and is grateful for Marist’s excellent education program that has provided him with opportunities to build a network at local schools and to meet many amazing teachers, educators, and students. James possesses a passion for history and has always sought to share that passion with just about anybody willing to listen. He is also very interested in politics, writing, and sports, such as baseball and football. James is here at the Hudson River Valley Institute as an intern to expand his knowledge and understanding of the local areas’ historical significance and share those stories with others.


Outside of school activities and studies, James is always busy with his hobbies, but most importantly with his family. Some of his family have lived in the Hudson Valley for many years. At home, James enjoys spending time with his amazingly supportive fiancé and their five-month-old son. He always makes sure to set aside time from working and homework every day to spend time with them both. Additionally, if free time allows, he enjoy hikes and outdoor activities and sometimes video games, board games, and other fun activities. Also, James has always aspired to be a fiction author and even has an idea for a great novel, so he enjoys sitting down occasionally to write creatively and allow his imagination to wander. Some of his favorite titles include a mix of fiction and nonfiction books, such as The Hunger Games series and the World War II nonfiction book The Longest Winter. James is also a movie buff and has always loved Star Wars (except for the sequel trilogy, which he thinks are terrible) and the Marvel movies.


Following his graduation from Marist, James plans to complete his teaching certification and become a high school history teacher. Per New York state requirements, James will get his master’s degree and possibly a doctoral degree someday. He has always been fascinated and intrigued by the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte and would likely seek a Ph.D. in that era of historical study. Should he eventually graduate with a Ph.D., James would seek to become a college professor. The education program here at Marist has set him up with many valuable contacts and opportunities. Hopefully, this will allow him to become a full-time history teacher soon after graduation. Lastly, while James loves the Hudson Valley because it is his home, he and his family plan to move out-of-state (for financial reasons) to the Carolinas within a few years and build themselves a new beginning down there. James hopes to take his passion of history with him and share it with new friends, future colleagues, and students. James has a long journey ahead of him and here at the Hudson River Valley Institute, he seeks to take the first steps towards the future and success.

Meet the Intern: Seamus O’Rourke


Seamus O’Rourke is a junior at Marist College, majoring in History and Adolescent Education. After graduating from Marist, he plans to teach high school social studies near his hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut. Growing up, Seamus attended Fairfield Public Schools until high school, when he attended Notre Dame Catholic High School, also in Fairfield. He played varsity hockey for Notre Dame Lancers and was captain his senior year. Seamus preferred the small class sizes at Notre Dame to what was offered at Fairfield Public Schools, so Marist’s small campus and class sizes attracted him. The beautiful campus and History and Adolescent Education majors offered were also a powerful incentive. Seamus chose to intern here at the Hudson River Valley Institute because he wants to gain firsthand experience as an historian. He believes it is necessary to have experience in the field of history before teaching about it.

Besides history and education, Seamus is interested in a variety of subjects, including philosophy, psychology/counseling, business/management, and athletics. He has played ice hockey since he was four years old, and he still plays in adult leagues today. Going forward, Seamus plans to stay in the hockey world by coaching. He has coached at the Fairfield Ice Academy for the past six years, coaching beginner skaters and young hockey players. He is excited to move up in age and skill and coach youth hockey teams, and eventually a high school team.

Seamus’s passion for developing children into independent skaters transfers over into the classroom. As a teacher, he is excited to teach his students not only a plethora of history content from various perspectives and sources, but also to teach students how to think and learn like historians. He plans to teach his students how to navigate texts, determining their credibility, purpose, and possible bias. Seamus understands that it is vital for his students to be equipped with the necessary skills to be lifelong learners, not just short-term content memorizers. Just as he does on the ice, he hopes to do in the classroom: develop children into responsible, independent human beings.