ST. FRANCISVILLE — Each June, a group of Masons from St. George’s Lodge No. 6 in Schenectady, New York, travel to St. Francisville to honor one of their lodge brothers who has been dead for more than 150 years.
For the past few years, the group has participating in The Day The War Stopped, the annual re-enactment of the unique circumstances that surrounded the death and burial of Lt. Commander John E. Hart. Hart was the federal commander of the USS Albatross in 1863, and during the height of the Civil War, he committed suicide.
On June 12, 1863, the two sides paused the fighting to bury Hart in a Masonic ceremony in Grace Episcopal Church’s cemetery. Each year, St. Francisville hosts a re-enactment of the events from that day 153 years ago, and members of St. George’s Lodge No. 6, where Hart was a member, participate in the solemn events. Hart is the only Union soldier buried in Grace’s cemetery.
“It brings us closer to our Masonic brother (Hart) and to our brothers here who we’ve formed a relationship with,” said Paul Hulseapple, master of the St. George’s Lodge. “It means a lot to us that they look after the grave.”
Eight members of St. George’s Lodge made the trip to St. Francisville this year, although only six participated in the re-enactment. For the past two years, they’ve portrayed the sailors of the Albatross, wearing authentic uniforms, who deliver Hart’s coffin to the local Masons of Feliciana Lodge No. 31 for the burial rites.
Hulseapple said the group usually comes for a long weekend and they stay at Barrow House Bed & Breakfast on Royal Street.
“It’s a given in our lodge that we are going to come here once a year, it’s a big event for us,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to spend time with members of the lodge here, have dinner and socialize and to assist them in any way we can.”
Frank “The Yank” Karwowski has been making the trek to St. Francisville for 18 years and was the first member of the Schenectady lodge to participate in the re-enactments, which began 19 years ago.
“I was asked to come down by John Rarick, who started this,” said Karwowski, who portrays Executive Officer Theodore B. Du Bois, of the Albatross, during the re-enactments. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been here. Eventually, more members of our lodge became interested and started to come down. This is how it started.”
Karwowski was intrigued because of the authentic Masonic rituals that were observed in the retelling of Hart’s tragic and unique tale. He has done extensive research about Hart and hopes to one day write a book about the burial. He usually gives an informal talk to visitors at Hart’s grave each year, recounting the circumstances of Hart’s life and death.
“I’m very grateful to the people here who take the time to make this such a special event and to remember him each year,” said Karwowski. “They try to make it better and improve it each time. It’s really a special re-enactment to us, and we appreciate the opportunity to participate.”