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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.

Autumn 2018 Issue of The Hudson River Valley Review – OUT NOW!


Vol. 35, No.1, Autumn 2018

The Hudson River in the Revolution: America’s Key to Victory
James Kirby Martin

Thomas Cole’s Knickerbocker and Catskill Identity, 1825–1838: A Reconsideration of Cole’s “Englishness” and “Conservatism” through a Brief Portrait of the Artist who Chose Cedar Grove, Matthew DeLaMater

Personal Reflection
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
James M. Johnson

Notes and Documents
The Maid of the Highlands: Joan of Arc Reflected in West Point Iconography
John Pendergast

Regional History Forum
Answering the Call: The Rhinebeck Fire Company and the FASNY Museum
Elijah Bender

Plus: Book Reviews and New & Noteworthy Titles Received

We are a “journal of regional studies,” so we should be familiar with the concept of “place”—in our case, the Hudson River Valley. But sometimes even we are surprised about how great an influence this region has had, both on the surrounding world and on its own residents. This issue highlights the interplay between “our place” and people from colonial times to the present.

It also answers some intriguing questions. For example, who developed the British strategy during the American Revolution, and how was that strategy implemented by field officers and affected by the “field” itself? Or how has a legendary commander profoundly impacted the U.S. Military Academy despite never setting foot on its grounds?

While both sides in the Revolution coveted the Hudson River Valley, at times it stood in their way, as when the French and American armies marched from Rhode Island to Yorktown. Their epic journey contributed immensely to America’s independence, so why did it take an equally epic effort to have the federal government establish the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route? Some fifty years after the Revolution, one British citizen relied on the New World to forge his own independence from the Old. Today, a scholarly debate rages as to how British or American Thomas Cole may have been. Our author maintains that the artist’s small-town life in Catskill is the key to understanding his identity. Community and identity also are essential to the history of the Rhinebeck Fire Department, which has maintained a reputation for selfless service and strong fraternal ties since its founding in 1834.

We hope this issue will inspire you to think about how we continue to inform and to be formed by the places we call home.

You can preview the issue and read the Regional History Forum, Book Reviews, and New and Noteworthy Books online at:

The Hudson River Valley Review is available at select booksellers and museum gift-shops throughout the region for $15.00 each. Subscriptions are available through the website at:, or by calling 845-575-3052. A one-year subscription (two issues) is $20.00, save even more by subscribing for two years at $35.00.

The Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College is the center for the study and promotion of the Hudson River Valley, providing information about the region’s history, culture, economy, and environment, and educational resources to teachers, students, and others through, public programming, and The Hudson River Valley Review. This biannual journal covers all aspects of regional history. All articles in The Hudson River Valley Review undergo peer analysis.

The Hudson Valley Cowboys and Skinners: Separating Truth from Myth

The Hudson River Valley was home to many notable events throughout the Revolutionary War, such as the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the Battle of White Plains, and the Saratoga campaign. While these important historical milestones are well studied, there are other pieces of history in this area that have fallen victim to error and speculation. A perfect example is found in the study of the Cowboys and the Skinners, vigilante-like bands of militia with questionable loyalty who raided Westchester County. These guerilla forces harassed the local citizens and stole from both loyalists and patriots indiscriminately. While it was well known that the Cowboys were British marauders, it was largely believed for years that the Skinners were American marauders, but as a close analysis of history shows, this was a misconception that would not go away.


cortlandt skinner

Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner

Following the fall of 1776, after the British had successfully routed the American forces from New York City, the Hudson Valley was largely divided between north and south for much of the war. In the south were the British, operating out of New York City and maintaining posts at Kingsbridge, Morrisania, and Westchester.[1] In the north were the Americans, operating from Peekskill and maintaining posts from the Croton River across to the Long Island Sound.[2] The land in the middle of these two sides, covering most of Westchester County, was called “The Neutral Ground.” It was given this name because neither the British nor the Americans regularly controlled the area, causing it to become a sort of buffer zone between the two opposing forces. This Neutral Ground would be subjected to raids by both the Cowboys and Skinners, as they took produce from farmers and robbed travelers, all in an attempt to help their side’s cause. Both used guerilla warfare tactics to achieve their lawless ends.

The Cowboys were a British light horse battalion under the command of Colonel James De Lancey. Their name came from American soldiers and farmers, as they often rounded up cattle for the British in their raids.[3] They were stationed near King’s Bridge in Westchester, mostly operating in this area until the end of the war.[4] The Skinners, on the other hand, were thought to be an American unit. The name is thought to have come from the practice of “skinning” farmers of their food and goods.[5] Stephen Jenkins wrote, “whence they came, or where they were recruited history does not state.”[6] The difficulty in analysis of the Skinners is that the validity of the claims about their origins are unreliable. The Cowboys have a clearer presence in Revolutionary War history, but what about the Skinners?

The most famous role that the Skinners played in Revolutionary War history is in the capture of Major John Andre on September 22, 1780. The credit of his capture goes to John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams, on the road to Tarrytown.[7] These militiamen were called Skinners by several writers, including Robert McConnell Hatch in Major John Andre: A Gallant in Spy’s Clothing.[8] Drawing a connection to the Skinners in the capture of Major Andre would make sense, as they were considered American marauders and this was a circumstance that happened by chance. However, Hatch’s assertion in far from definitive, and the Skinners may have not been affiliated with the capture at all.

Colton's map of Westchester County 1867

Green- American controlled Peekskill Blue- American zones of operation (from left to right: Croton river, Pine’s Bridge, and Armonk) Red- British zones of operation (Kingsbridge, Morrisania, and Westchester)

One source that offers a short and simple clarification of the Skinners comes from the Revolutionary War itself. Doctor James Thacher kept a journal of his time in the war and one entry makes specific reference to these raiders.

Those of the inhabitants of the neutral ground who were tories, have joined their friends in New York, and the whigs have retired into the interior of our country. Some of each side have taken up arms, and become the most cruel and deadly foes. There are-within the British lines-banditti consisting of lawless villains, who devote themselves to the most cruel pillage and robbery among the defenceless inhabitants between the lines, many of whom they carry off to New York, after plundering their houses and farms. These shameless marauders have received the names of Cow-boys and Skinners.[9]

Thacher states that both the Cowboys and Skinners were from the British side. He calls them bandits, which may be true for some, if not all, of these men. Yet this entry demonstrates the wild and unregulated nature of these raiding parties. According to Lincoln Diamant, the Skinners were given their name because they were raised by Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner.[10] Therefore, the Skinners could not have been responsible for the capture of Major Andre, unless they had switched sides for profit or recognition. While the Skinners were in fact American loyalist volunteers from New Jersey, they did not affiliate themselves with the Patriot cause. But where did this myth of origin as patriots come from and why has it been so persistent?

De Lancey’s Cowboy painting by Charles M. Lefferts Uniforms of the American, British, French, and German Armies in the War of the American Revolution 1775–1783.

“De Lancey’s Cowboy” painting by Charles M. Lefferts, appearing in “Uniforms of the American, British, French, and German Armies in the War of the American Revolution 1775–1783.”

The answer is found in The Spy, a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper was born in New Jersey six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and was eager to write a book about it.[11] He attributed the term Skinners to American vigilantes to create authentic villains in his novel.  No great attention or detail is given to them, but the damage had been done. Decades later, Washington Irving, the famous Hudson Valley writer, wanted to give new life to the myth. Following Cooper’s lead, he reinforced the Skinners as American marauders in his work, A Chronicle of Wolfert’s Roose.[12] Irving lent enough credibility to the myth for it to last into the 20th century. For the past 200 years, many historians have fallen victim to this alluring misconception of Skinners as marauding patriots without making a thorough investigation into the source of this information. This is how the myth endured: passed down through the years in worthy historical texts, slipping past all but the keenest observer. There is likely more ambiguity to the Cowboys and Skinners than we know now, but we can separate truth from fiction in regard to the identity of the Skinners. They were another militia of the British and not affiliated with the Continental Army.

By Gerard Foley

[1] Jenkins, Stephen. The Cowboys, the Skinners, and the Neutral Ground 1910.

[2] Ibid

[3] Diamant, Lincoln. Skinners: Patriot “Friends” or Loyalist Foes? 1987.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Jenkins, Neutral Grounds

[7] Cray, Robert. Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831. 1997.

[8] Diamant, Skinners

[9] Thacher, James. A military journal during the American revolutionary war, 1775 to 1783

[10] Diamant, Skinners

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

Meet the Intern: Gerard Foley

GerardFoleyHello. My name is Gerard Foley. I was born in Huntington, Long Island, in the state of New York. In 2015 I graduated from Walt Whitman High School. My discovery of Marist College happened when my older brother was touring campuses while I was in middle school. Though it did not become the choice for him, it immediately became the choice for me. The beautiful campus and particularly the view of the river left me enthralled. Jokingly, I declared to my family that I would go here when I was old enough. All these years later and I am now a senior studying English. My love of reading and writing placed me in this major, but I also have an interest in history. That is why I am interning at the Hudson River Valley Institute during my last year at Marist. I hope to gain some practical research experience and learn more about the area that has been my home these past four years.

Aside from my studies at Marist, I keep myself busy with hobbies and fun activities. I love to play games of all kinds: video games, card games, board games, you name it. Growing up with brothers has instilled in me a sense of joy and competition in gaming. I particularly appreciate most Nintendo games, like the infamous Mario Party and Mario Kart. Whether it’s the roll of the dice or the handling of a controller, I always have a good time. Of course I enjoy reading in my spare time, from epic fantasies like The Lord of The Rings to modern classics like 1984. I write when I can, and always kick myself to do so more often. I also enjoy the outdoors. Taking walks around campus helps me to relieve stress and experience nature. The nature of my major and other hobbies causes me to be inside quite often, but I am outside when I can be.

Upon graduating from Marist College, I hope to go into the publishing or editing field. My childhood dream is to become an author, and I hope to achieve this by keeping at my writing and making connections with the right people. I am still unsure if graduate school is my next step, but I will see where my final year takes me. There are still so many opportunities available to me, and it would truly be a waste not to take a chance and miss out on them. In the future, I hope to be able to contribute to my community in a meaningful way. I can start now by doing my best at the Hudson River Valley Institute.

Meet the Intern: Owen Smith

IMG_20171019_002149_703 (1)Hey there, my name is Owen Smith I am a senior, a history/ education major, and an intern at the Hudson River Valley Institute. I come from a small village on Long Island called Greenlawn. Not many people have heard of this place mainly because Greenlawn is surrounded by larger and better known towns. In addition to coming from a small town, I graduated from a very small high school from one of the smallest school districts on the island. I decided to come to Marist because I appreciated that small school feel, with small class sizes. The thought of being a student in a class of a hundred at the bigger universities always scared the daylights out of me. So, once I heard that Marist had small classes and an excellent history department, I knew it was the place for me.

From a young age, I always found myself in the outdoors. I was always hiking, camping, or fishing with my dad. Later on in life I became a Boy Scout and continued to spend my time in the outdoors even after I received the rank of Eagle Scout before my 18th birthday. I also began hunting with my dad when I became old enough. Some of the best memories I have are of my friends and I telling jokes in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere before the opening day of deer season. I played basketball all through my middle school and high school. I was pretty good at both offense and defense, but defense was something I was really good at because of my size and weight. Another thing about me is that I have always been fascinated with history. Something about how people lived and seeing how society has changed over the years is really interesting to study.  I also am really fascinated with war. My mom told me stories about how in second grade I would ask the teacher when we will learn about World War 2 and she told me not until much later.  Whether it be technology, tactics, or political policies passed during time of war, I think all of it is so interesting. One of the most exciting moments of my life was taking a nine-hour tour of the Normandy beaches in France during the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Seeing all the beaches and old battlefields seen in war movies and television shows really put everything into perspective, and to be in the same place where such historical events happened was really powerful. History is something I have always loved and that is why I hope to teach history at my old high school.

My plans for the future is to become a history teacher either in a high school or a middle school somewhere on Long Island. I hope to get a master’s degree in school administration so that one day I will become a vice principle, principle, or maybe even a superintendent. Although I love history, I have always taken an interest in how schools function and I hope to one day take part in that process. I also feel that there are problems with schools and if I was to become someone high enough in the ranks, maybe I would make an effort to fix those problems.