Manchester New Hampshire’s Professional Wrestler, Restaraunteur, Wild Circus Owner, Amusement Park Operator, Real Estate Investor: John Demetrious Kilonis (1885-1965)

John Kilonis, from Allen's Wrestlers playing card.

John Kilonis, from Allen’s Wrestlers playing card.

John Demetrious Kilonis is probably best remembered for his wrestling career, being considered the “terror” of the light-heavyweight wrestlers of his day, at one time winning the middleweight wrestling championship of the world. He was born in 1885 in Salonika [Thessaloniki] Greece, immigrating to the United States in 1909.

His wrestling career lasted for 25 years, retiring in April of 1935. For 50 years he was a Manchester, New Hampshire resident, dying in 1965 at a hospital there. His funeral was from the St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church of Manchester, and reportedly he was buried in Macomb, IL.

John Kilonis, Boston Post newspaper, 25 December 1920

John Kilonis, Boston Post newspaper, 25 December 1920

Although there does not seem to be a complete compilation of his mat-man wins, a 1916 newspaper introduced John Kilonis as international champion light heavyweight. In 1919 he won the middleweight title beating Ira Dern, but lost it to Lou Talaber in 1925. In 1927 he toured Australia, defeating Mike Yokel, Sam Clapham, Ted Thye and others.

He won the light- heavyweight title in 1931 beating Marion Mynster, and lost it in 1932 in Camden NJ to Pink Gardner. Various photographs of John Kilonis in 1917, 1920, 1921 and 1922 show him wearing his championship belt. He retired from the sport in 1937.

1917 John Kilonis

1917 John Kilonis

John Kilonis was called “The Greek Demon” (1918), “The Terrible Greek” (per “The Greek Tiger Man” (per his obituary), the “toughest, hardest boiled Greek in the world,” (1922) “The Roughhouse Greek of Chicago” (1926) “The Greek Champion” (Allen’s Wrestler picture cards), “Gorilla,” (1930) “Gentle John,” (by 1930-1935 in the year he quit the ring).

Many give him credit for innovating some of the earliest dramatic “brutalities” that are common now in modern day ring antics. According to Allen’s Wrestlers picture cards, “He is the originator of, and has perfected, that famous hold which has brought him so many victories–the Boston Crab.” But that was not the only trick up his sleeve.

Modern wrestlers are still honoring the dramatic wrestling hold (The Boston Crab) as demonstrated by WWE Match Dolph Ziggler Vs.Adam Rose: WWE Main Event 6/June/2015 Boston MA. [see video]

The 26 March 1935 Decatur Daily Review newspaper (Decatur IL), stated “‘Gentle John’ broke into professional wrestling as a side show attractions, meeting all challengers. Here he learned a valuable bit of psychology–that the crowd revels in watching the tough guy get manhandled. In succeeding years he became known as the sport’s roughest performer….

Once he he concealed a board barbed with tacks in his tights and tortured his foe; he eternally shouted defies at the crowd and referee.  Once when wrestling a Turkish opponent who prided himself on his flamboyant mustache, John Kilonis hid a pair of scissors in his trunks and when he had the Turk on the floor pulled the scissors out and clipped the lip adornment. Another time he set fire to the trunks of an opponent. “Despite this malignant showmanship, he was known to associates as a kind and true friend. His barroom tactics were a veneer to his real character.

Hamilton Daily news of 26 December 1935 announcing an all star wrestling match

Hamilton Daily news of 26 December 1935 announcing an all star wrestling match

As The Piqua Daily Call (Piqua, Ohio) newspaper of February 6, 1930 states: “Wherever he wrestles, Gentle John Kilonis is one of the best drawing cards in the game today. And it’s really not hard to understand why, for the “Gentle One” is certainly the most bizarre and picturesque character in the mat sport today. The Greek car scrambler…does things on the mat which no other grappler would think of doing. “I gotta do something” Kilonis was heard to remark recently when the referee was rebuking him for pulling a handful of hair from the luxuriant tresses of any opponent….And that’s John all over. He’s always doing something. That something may be anything from kicking an opponent in the mouth to socking the referee but he always gives the fans real entertainment…”

Curtis L. Backus (with hat) and John D. Kilonis on the right.

Photographed during his brief stint with the Backus & Kilonis Wild Animal Circus. Curtis L. Backus (with hat) and John D. Kilonis standing beside him wearing a vest. Photograph from “Bandwagon” magazine, January 1967, Circus Historical Society.

A December 10, 1921 issue of the Salt Lake City Deseret News states that John Kilonis “possesses business ability as well at athletic prowess. He has saved his money and had made investments in the east that have made him a very rich man. Part of his fortune,. estimated at $100,000 is invested in a hotel in Virginia, which constitutes the headquarters of the wrestler when he is not working on engagements…”

After his retirement, he, along with another ex-wrestler organized a circus, with a head quarters at Crystal Lake, in Manchester NH. This show was doomed to close in 6 weeks, with local flooding, bad weather and low attendance to blame. He set up a carnival-style amusement park on his property, along with a variety store. Other investments were made in restaurants (Kilonis Grill, Kilonis Ring Side Cafe) and real estate (including a trailer park in the Crystal Lake area).

Ogden Standard, January 15, 1928

Ogden Standard, January 15, 1928, close up of John Kilonis

He was a powerful, colorful, showman with a flair for the dramatic. More details about his life, his family, and his career are shown below.


Demetrios “James” “Jim” Kilonis &. Mary Bakalicou/Bakalicav.
Children of Demetrios & Mary (Baalicou) Kilonis:
1. + John Demetrious Kilonis, b. 15 May 1885 Salonika [Thessalonikik] Greece
2. Thomas D. Kilonis/Kylonis, b 8 April 1891 Greece, d. 16 August 1934 in Goffstown NH, Hillsborough County General Hospital. He m. 7 Sep 1919 in Nashua NH to Theodora A. Kiratsouz, dau of Arthur & Alexandra (Papathanasiou) Kiratsouz. Occupation Cook. By 1917 (WW1 Draft card) he was a restaurant proprietor in Nashua NH. Children: James T. Kilonis, b 25 June 1920 in NH, d. Sept. 1972 (an electrician), and Aleck/Alex Kilonis, b 31 Aug 1924 in NH and d. 5 May 2010 in Nashua NH, Class of 1949, UNH. [They both enlisted in the army during WW2] [Aleck’s obituary]

Kilonis circus advertising page 2John Demetrious Kilonis, son of Demetrios & Mary (Bakalicous) Kilonis, b. 15 May 1885 Salonika [Thessaloniki], Greece, d. 22 March 1965. He married 29 Dec 1922 in Cook Co. Illinos to Isabelle Burchel, daughter of Hugh & Elizabeth (McGuire) Burchel. She was b. 23 Dec 1891 in Rock Island, Illinois, and d. March 1972 in Manchester NH [ssdi]/ At one time he was World Light Heavyweight champion. According to his obituary he was buried in Macomb IL. Lived on West Grove Avenue at Crystal Lake. 8th grade education. Naturalized. 1942 Draft Registration
In 1918 Registration for draft – worked at Central Hotel, Norfolk VA. NOK brother Tom D. Kilonis
Dramatic Mirror of Motion Pictures, 1918
Another large wrestling carnival has been planned by Fred Moore, joint manager of the Apollo and New Nixon Theater. The bouts are to be staged on Jan. 28 at the New Nixon, John Kilonis “The Greek Demon,” who recently defeated Pinky Gardner, “The Southern Whirlwind” after a terrific battle, is to grapple with Henry Irslinger, who has recovered the middleweight wrestling crown by defeating Paul Bowser, of Newark.
1923 Ship Manifest, SS Philadelphia Oct 6, 1923
from New York to San Juan Puerto Rico
John Kilenis 38y 4m artist Greek, brother Thomas Kilonis 433 West 35 Street, Norfolk VA
Kilenis, Isabel 32, 10m Artist, b. Greece mother Elizabeth Burchel 544 North Eidsie Ave Chicago IL; 2 other “artists” also on ship
By 1929 traveling as “professional wrestler”
The Telegraph April 29, 1936, Nashua NH,
Bockus and Kilonis Wild Animal circus will give two performances in Nashua, Tuesday, May 5th. This well known tent organizations presents both quantity and quality and offers a circus program which will appear to the ardent circus fan. Their roster of circus stars embrace the following well known artists: William Shulz, Wild Animal Exhibit, of jungle bred lions and tigers put through an amazing routine by Marion Knowlton, world’s greatest female wild animal subjugator; De Marlow and Marlette are a European duo of aerial gymnasts; the “Freeborn Trio” are skillful equilibrists and high perch experts, Raymond and LaFrance, astounding head balancers and aerobats; Leo and May Jackson, champion tight wire and nifty jugglers; Harry Barrows aerial rings in daring drops and catches; Madame Dale’s stable of Kentucky and Arabian horses; The De Marco sisters, dainty and youthful trapeze performers; Ted Merchant, cowboy screen star, has his own company of cowboys and girls and spirited broncos and presents thrilling “Frontier Life”; Jinks and Clifford head the merry clown continent, who present their grotesque absurdities and ludicrous comedy. Al Massey’s Military band will offer concerns before each performance which commences at 2 and 8 p.m. Miss Faith Ryan is one of the many featured performers… shown with her blue ribbon mount, a high hurdle jumper and cake walker, a favorite among the herd of high school horses.
The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden Utah 10 January 1937 Sunday, page 8
First “Villain” of Mat Going To Quit; Columbus, Ohio, Jan. 9. –(UP)–
One of wrestling’s highest ballyhooed performers and the original   “villain” of the mat game, “Gentle John” Kilonis is going to retire.   A native of Salonika, Greece, Kilonis came to the United States in 1907  and two years later began wrestling professionally. He made a careful  study of styles and fan reaction and decided he could make more money by being a “public enemy” than he could by following the conventional style of matman. During the 29 years he spent in the game, Kilonis has wrestled in every part of the country, in big towns and little ones. Regardless of where the match, he took pains to perform stunts which would increase his right to the title of “the king of rough house wrestlers.”
The shortest match Kilonis ever engaged in was held in Columbus. In it he met Ted Thye, then the light heavyweight champion, in a three fall bout. The entire match lasted only six minutes and 28 seconds.
John describes it in this fashion:
“Bump — bump — bump —
Kilonis always did the unexpected.  The Greek matman made his last appearance in Dayton, Ohio., recently by pre-arrangement had a guitar at the ringside which he broke over the head of his rival during a mixup.
In recent years, Kilonis has deserted the ring in the summer and toured with a carnival he owns.  He also owns an amusement park at Manchester, N.H.
-Manchester City Directory-
Kilonis John (Isabelle) carnivalmn h Crystal pk nr lake
Kilonis, Gloria A student r Crystal pk nr Lake
Kilonis, John h 97 Cedar
Kilonis, John D (Isabelle L) restr 63 Lake av and amusements Crystal pk nr Lake h do
Kilonis Grill (Halil Husen) 63 Lake av
Kilonis, John D (Isabelle L) (Kilonis Trailer Park) and (Crystal Lake Variety Store) h Crystal pk nr Lake
Kilonis Isabelle L. Mrs. (Crystal Lake Variety Store) r Crystal Park nr Lake av
Kilonis John D. (Isabele L) Kilonis Ring Side Cafe) and Kilonis Trailer Park h Cyrstal pk nr Lake av
Kilonis – Ring Side Cafe (John Kilonis) 85 Spruce
Kilonis Trailer Park (John D. Kilonis) Crystal pk nr Lake av
Kilonis, John D. (Isabelle L) h. West Shore Av
Crystal Lake Variety Story
Billboard, March 28, 1942
NH, Manchester–Crystal Lake Park, Mrs. John Kilonis, mrg; has three rides, eight concession games; books free attractions
Billboard, March 25, 1944
NH, Manchester–Crystal Lake Park, Mrs. John Kilonis, mrg; has three rides, eight concession games; books free attractions
Manchester–Pine Island Park, Public Service Co. owners; Barney J. Williams mrg; has eight rides, 14 concession games; beach, rink, penny arcade; books orchestras; pay and free attractions at times.
Billboard Magazine, March 29, 1947
Manchester–Crystal Lake Park, Mrs. John Kilonis, mrg; has three rides, eight concession games; books free attractions.
Manchester–Pine Island Park, Barney J. Williams, owner-mrg; has seven rides, 10 concession games, rink, penny arcade, coin machine; books orchestras and attractions.
Billboard, Feb 19, 1949
John Kilonis, former carnival-circus op who exited from the field in the ’30s, is now in the real estate business in Manchester, N.H. He attended the Massachusetts fair meeting.
Billboard, March 4, 1950
John Kilonis and Joe Parelli, operators of Crystal Lake Park, Manchester, N.H. were in Chicago purchasing rides for the spot.
Billboard, April 9, 1955
Manchester — Crystal Lake Park, Mrs. John Kilonis, mgr.; has 3 rides, 8 concessions; games; books free attractions.
The Fresno Bee The Republican, Fresno, California, 24 March 1965
Funeral services will be held in St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church Thursday for John Kilonis, 78, former middleweight wrestling champion of the world. Kilonis, one of professional wrestling’s original “villains,” died last night. The colorful Greek Tiger Man took on all comers in his 25 years in the ring. His foes included Joe Malcewicz, Count Azrynoff, Ed (Strangler) Lewis, Gus Sonnenberg, Henri De Glane and Bull Montana.
Kilonis was native of Salonika, Greece. He was credited with innovating many of the dramatic “brutalities” which wrestling fans came to expect of the ring’s bad men. But at heart he was a gentle man, and he won the hearts of residents here after adopting Manchester as his home 50 years ago. Kilonis leaves his widow Isabelle, a daughter Mrs. Francis (Gloria) Auer of Chicago, and two brothers in Greece. He will be buried in Macomb, Ill. Funeral services will be held at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church tomorrow.
Child of John & Isabelle (Burchel) Kilonis:
1. Gloria Ann Kilonis, b. 28 June 1924 in Manchester NH, died 15 February 2006 at Granite Ledges of Concord, Concord NH; m. 10 July 1946 in Manchester NH to Francis Joseph Auer, son of Adam & Isabelle (McGlinsky) Auer.  Per her obituary, she attended Manchester NH schools and Mt. St. Mary’s in Hooksett.  A graduate of Marquette University in Wisconsin, she earned her master’s degree in drama and fine arts. She was employed by the Chicago Parks Department, Drama Production Division. She and her husband lived in Chicago IL for most of their 41 years together.  At the time of her death family included her first cousins, Aleck Kilonis of Nashua [who died in 2010]; John Pappas of Manchester; and nephews James Pappas of Concord and Matthew Pappas of Oakland, California .


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3 Responses to Manchester New Hampshire’s Professional Wrestler, Restaraunteur, Wild Circus Owner, Amusement Park Operator, Real Estate Investor: John Demetrious Kilonis (1885-1965)

  1. Arthur Podaras says:

    I remember the Grill on Lake Ave. It had a neon sign. My father worked there, I believe. I do remember there was some connection between my father and Jim Kilonis.



  3. Maria Kiloni says:

    He was my father’s uncle, born in a village called Livadi in northern Greece at the foothills of Mount Olympus. If there are any living relatives of his we would like them to get in touch with them.

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