photo credit: Municipality of Eleusis
The night of November 2, 1909, was advanced, but at the Tsakiris wine shop in Eleusis, the merrymaking was still going strong. The sounds of Kousnou’s laterna (a variant of the barrel piano) entertained a group of villagers and laborers. The most unruly among them were three Cretans, who had been working for some time now at the Charilaou soap factory. All of Eleusis echoed with the voices of the patrons, the laughter, the invocation of Bacchus and the music. And as if all this was not enough, around 5 in the morning shots were fired as part of the rowdy festivities.
The martial Cretan
The shots caused a stir among the residents, but they also awakened the Gendarmerie Station Chief, Deputy Commander Demetrios Tryfon, who decided to intervene. He gathered four gendarmes and went to the wine shop to disarm the rambunctious patrons. He was armed with a Gras service rifle but he failed to bring the cartridge box with him.
When he arrived at the shop, he walked in with two gendarmes, while the others remained outside. He approached the group of brawlers and tried to conduct a body search. The first two villagers did not object, but the Cretan Miltiadis Cassavetes did not seem at all cooperative. Instead, he pulled a revolver and turned it to Tryfon, shouting, “Do you want my gun? Here’s my gun! “(a different version of the events wants Cassavetes stating that he was not one of “those people who surrender their gun”).
The wine shop massacre
At that moment, a second Cretan, Georgios Bakiras, shot Tryfon, even though the two men knew each other. As Tryfon fell to the ground, panic broke out. The owner of the laterna, her player and the shopkeeper fled, while the rest of the patrons and the gendarmes engaged into a ferocious shootout. One of the Cretans shot and killed one of the two gendarmes who had followed Tryfon in the shop. As the battle raged on, the other gendarmes rushed in, taking care to lend some cartridges to the injured Tryfon.
The final outcome of the battle was shocking. Two Cretans (Cassavetes and one named Maniatakis) were lying dead among the overturned tables and chairs. The gendarme Dimitris Pilihos and a civilian called Georgios Hatzidimitriou from the community of Kalivia were also dead. Hatzidimitriou had the misfortune of sleeping in the back of the shop when the battle began, and he was (accidentally?) shot by Cassavetes. There was also a fifth dead person, named Svezos or Vetsos, but it is not clear whether he was from Eleusis or from Cyprus.
Tryfon had been seriously injured in his chest, shoulder and left hand, but he managed to exit the shop and, supported by his colleagues, went to the home of Doctor Nicholas Poulis, where he received first aid. Much more serious was the condition of the fifth gendarme. His name was N. Traiforos and he had entered the wine shop with the Deputy Commander. He fought bravely, but he was shot in the lung and stomach. At the end of the gunfight, he collapsed outside the shop from massive loss of blood. Bystanders carried him to Doctor Poulis’ home, but because his condition was extremely critical, he was taken to the waterfront, where he was placed aboard a small steamer that took him to the Tzaneio Hospital of Piraeus.
The rising sun found the town of Eleusis in a state of profound shock. A group of twenty gendarmerie officers from Athens arrived by train to reinforce the police detachment from Mandra who had undertaken the restoration of order. The Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Bakiras, who took advantage of the chaos in the aftermath of the battle to escape. The prosecutor also ordered the arrest of the owner of the laterna and her player, who had fled to Piraeus.
Deputy Commander Tryfon was transferred to a military hospital in Athens where he revealed that one of the Cretans had tried to stab him in the back, but he was saved because he collapsed on the floor. As for the victims of the fight, the Cretans and the villagers were buried that same afternoon in Eleusis, while Pilihos was buried in Mandra. This particular gendarme had become famous only a few weeks earlier, when he had participated in the detachment that located and captured the leaders of an infamous insurrection at the Salamis Naval Station in October 1909.
And while the fugitive disappeared into the mountains and the victims were buried, the newspapers discovered the most tragic (or perhaps ironic) aspect of the case. Two months before the bloodshed, the Eleusinians had strongly complained about the behavior of the soap factory workers, almost reaching the brink of a riot in order to get rid of them. The factory owner had agreed to dismiss the troublesome Cretans but he failed to fulfill his promise. It would take the bullets of a Gras rifle to save the people of Eleusis from the fearsome rascals.