Stuffed zucchini for the King

The story of an interesting Serbian personality who used to ate stuffed zucchini with King Milan itself.
The story of an interesting Serbian personality who used to ate stuffed zucchini with King Milan itself.

A man of many achievements

It goes without saying that one of the most flamboyant characters laid to rest at the New Cemetery in Belgrade, is a lawyer, essayist, author and translator, professor, politician, Minister of Justice and member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts, Gligorije Giga Geršić (1842-1918).

Giga Geršić was born in the town of Bela Crkva (Vojvodina Region) to a family of grammar school headmasters and physicians. He studied law in Vienna and Pest, while became involved in radical youth movements early on and was one of the founders of the Peoples’ Radical Party. Upon return to Belgrade, at the age of twenty-four, he landed a job of professor at the Belgrade Higher School (predecessor of Belgrade University). In the course of his professional career, he was appointed Minister of Justice three times, but never completed a term of office due to his habit to clash with the influential figures.

King’s confidant

Even though he was almost sentenced to death for high treason, due to Peoples’ Radical Party alleged participation in the uprising against King Milan I of Serbia, Geršić was acquitted and rehabilitated, and in the subsequent period even managed to become a friend and personal advisor of the King. It was told that the King Milan highly appreciated his advice, both professional and personal, and shared even the most intimate secrets with him, such as his marital problems with Queen Natalia and troubles with the heir of the throne, who was not acting age appropriate.

The King sometimes used to cancel some royal duties just to have lunch at his friend’s house. When Geršić’s wife Marina was preparing his favorite dish, stuffed zucchini, it went without saying that the guest at lunch would be His Royal Highness, who also enjoyed this dish tremendously, almost as much as the company of his dear friend.

Exam at the card table

Giga Geršić loved spending time in local inns, despite the fact that he never drank alcohol. His vice were cards. Once, after the entire night of playing cards at the Grand Hotel, sometimes around 8 a.m., one of the players apologized to others, especially to professor Geršić, stating that he had to leave due to important business:

  • "Why are you leaving the table, young man?" – asked professor Geršić.
  • "I have an exam at the University today."
  • "What exam?" – professor wondered.
  • "Latin Law" – young man responded.
  • "Who is your examiner?" – Geršić presisted.
  • "Umhhh,... it’s you professor!"

Geršić forbade his student to leave the game and held the exam on the spot. The professor was not lenient. The questions were hard, but the student excelled, so Geršić gave him one of the highest grades and made him play cards for another hour.

Fear of the "deadly" draught

It could be said that very few things in life scared Giga Geršić - not the prison, not even King Milan. But there was one thing he dreaded the most – the draught. In his cabinet at the University, in the amphitheater, when dining out...wherever he was...he requested the windows to be shut tight, even in the warmest part of the summer, while he always carried a hand fan with him to keep him cold.

When a janitor once asked him politely if he could open the windows, because it was warm outside and everybody would suffocate, Geršić responded: „If you would be killed by the draught, they would find another janitor. However, if I drop dead, where they would find such a silly professor, crazy enough to give these students high grades, even when don’t deserve them?”

The unusual last wish

Giga Geršić will be remembered as one of the most easy-going University professors, a charming eccentric, hedonist and "bon vivant", but also as an excellent public speaker and one of the brightest scholars in Serbia of his time.

He passed away on March 8, 1918, at the age of 76 and was laid to rest at the New Cemetery in Belgrade (Section 26, Crypt 18 – III). The funeral was attended by almost the entire Belgrade population at the time. According to his last wish, three items were placed in his coffin: a deck of cards, a pack of cigarettes and a hand fan.

Do you know any other interesting personality, buried in your local cemetery, who had an unusual last wish? Contact us and share their story with us.

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