Catrastrophe - explosion in a factory in Athens kills multiple Kytherians
Updated: Feb 4
According to KYΘΗΡΑ newspaper. 17 July 1895, the worst catastrophe to affect Kytherians occurred on the morning of Friday, 12 July 1895 in Athens.
Minas Kapsanis was the fourth of the ten children of Georgios Kapsanis (Vikos) and his wife Elenitza Andronikou. He was born on 7 January 1863 in Potamos and baptised a few weeks later on 25 January.
Minas went to Athens and opened an ammunitions factory in Kalithea. The factory was divided into four sections: an ammunition manufacturing unit, a gunpowder/cartridges unit, a machinery unit with a small dwelling and a storage unit.
Sometime before 11 July 1895 Minas had purchased a large number of full cartridges. Employees were to extract the gunpowder from these cartridges so the gunpowder could be reused, and the brass casings could be on sold.
At about 10:15 am workers were disassembling the cartridges. Nikolaos Panagiotis Kapsanis angrily told a 12- year- old Ioannis Nikolaos Skloufas that he was not doing it correctly and proceeded to showed him the correct method. The young boy tried to do it as instructed, and in doing so caused the cartridges to explode. This led to a fire which filled the warehouse with smoke and fumes. The workers, knowing what was about to happen but overcome by smoke and fumes, desperately tried to escape, but eventually the flames ignited the ammunition and other cartridges in the warehouse and the factory exploded. Nikolas Skloufas' body was dismembered and was not found in the ruins until later.
At the time of the explosion, the wife and possibly a child, of the foreman Nikolaos Panagitois Kapsanis, was standing by the door waiting for her husband. Other workers grabbed her and dragged her away before the explosion, saving her life.
Hearing the huge blast, nearby railway workers rushed to the scene to offer first aid. In their wisdom they arrived with oil and vinegar. One man was running out of the ruins of the building on fire, yelling for water. A railway worker forced him to stop and covered him with dirt to extinguish the flames.
Gas explosions continued in the ruins until at least noon.
According to the newspaper report, the faces of the victims were unrecognisable as they were totally black as if covered in coal dust but burnt.
At about 11:15 am the victims were taken to hospital. Nikolaos Katsoulis, Stamatis Zantitois and Spiros Sofios walked themselves to hospital while Chr. Souris (no full name was given), Panagiotis Moulos (Margetis) were taken by stretcher to the civil hospital. Nikolaos Megalokonomos was also taken to the same hospital. The hospital deemed Katsoulis, Zantiotis and Sofios were the least injured of the survivors. Hospital staff believed the others had no chance of survival and would probably die before evening. Not only had the more injured men suffered horrific burns, they also had wounds to their heads and arms.
A reporter managed to talk to some of these victims and he described what he could.
Nikolaos Katsoulis was unable to speak as his lips were so severely burnt.
Stamatis Zantiotis said that the young boy had only been working for six days and was emptying cartridges the wrong way.
Spiros Sofios claimed care was not taken at the factory and often employees would smoke cigarettes around the ammunition.
Chr. Souris said “Ah my head! It bleeds constantly. Doctor I am lost.”
Panagiotis Moulos was unable to open his eyes. He died not long after arriving at hospital. His last words were “Oh God, oh God.”
Men were writhing in absolute agony.
Nikolas Katsoulis, Stamatis Zantiotis, Spiros Sofios, Chr Souris and Panagiotis Moulos died that day or the following day.
Other victims were taken to Evagelisma Hospital. They were Nikolaos P Kapsanis, Anastasios Lahanas, Kosmas Kapsanis, Dionisios Kapsanis and Nikolaos G. Kapsanis.
Not much was described about these men. Nikolaos P. Kapsanis’ face, hands and feet were completely disfigured, and his skin was oozing. Nikolaos G. Kapsanis was just described as the least injured. These men all died within two days.
Nikolaos Andronikos and Andreas Koumbis (Lochias) were also listed as employees at the time. They possibly survived the catastrophe.
In total 11 men, or possibly 12, lost their lives because of the explosion. The factory was totally destroyed. What made the catastrophe even worse was the factory was a lifeline of employment to many poor Kytherian families. Kytherian locals and government pledged support and aid to the widows, children, and orphans of the victims.
Nikolaos Katsoulis - No age or father’s name was mentioned so there are no further details about his family.
Stamatis Zantitotis – he was 33 years old. He was born 3pm on 10 March 1865 in Potamos. He was the second of the three children of Dimitrios Tzantiotis and Panagiota Trifili. He married Eleni Diakopoulou on 12 March 1892 in Potamos and they had one son. He was five years old when his father died.
Spiridonas Sofios – there is a death certificate for a Spiridonas Sofios for 3 August 1895, which is 22 days after the accident. It is possible this was the date the body arrived in Kythera for burial but there is a different date for death and burial. It is possible the person killed was a Spiridonas born 10 December 1871, but there is no proof for either of them.
Chr. Souris – No full first name or father's name was given so this victim may never be identified.
Panagiotis Moulos (Margetis) – he was 20 years old. He was born 2 January 1878. He was the second of six children of Konstantinos Margetis (Moulos) and Erini Moulou. He was unmarried.
Nikolaos P Kapsanis – he was 28 years old. He was born 6 October 1866 in Potamos. He was the second of six children of Panagiotis Kapsanis and Panagiotitza Panaretou. The newspaper reports claim his wife and child were at the factory at the time, but no records for a marriage or child have been found in Kythera.
Anastasios Lahanas – he was 29 years old. He was born on 3 May 1869 in Logothetianika and baptised 12 May 1869 in Iperagias Theotokou church in Logothetitanika. He was the second of eight children of Panagiotis Lahanas and Panagiotiza Lianou. He was a shoemaker in Kythera. He married Chrisoula Vasilou, and they had two sons.
Kosmas Kapsanis – No age or father’s name was mentioned so there are no further details about his family.
Dionisios Kapsanis – he was 23 years old. He was born on 23 November 1874 in Potamos. He was the fourth of six children of Kosmas Kapsanis (Vikos) and Anezina Fardouli. His name is engraved on the family tombstone in Kythera. More about his family will be written in our next blog.
Nikolaos G. Kapsanis – he was 33 years, the foreman of the factory and brother of the factory owner. He was born 23 February 1865. He was the fifth of ten children of Georgios Kapsanis (Vikos) and Elenitza Andronikou.
Ioannis Nikolaos Skoulfas – his family have not been found. There is a Gavrilis family with the byname of Skloufas, but Ioannis cannot be linked to them.
The above grave and signature images are all that have been found for these men are possibly the only things left behind. They need to be remembered.
May their memories be eternal.
KYΘΗΡΑ. 17 July 1895. Online κυθηραικος Συνδεσηας Αθηνων. http://www.ksa-press.gr/ : 2018. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.familysearch.org, Kythera Council Birth Records
Iperagias Theotokou Ilariotisas church register
translation by Kalie Zervos and Amalia Samios