To most people, the name Samuel J. Seymour will sound unfamiliar. Seymour, born in Easton, Maryland, in 1860, was the last surviving person who was witness to President Lincoln’s assassination. He was present at Ford’s Theater on the eve of April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth fired a deadly shot at the President.
Some nine decades had passed since the event anchored itself in American history when Samuel J. Seymour, at the age of 96, took the hot seat on I’ve Got a Secret.
I’ve Got a Secret was a TV game show which originally aired from 1952 until 1967. The format was similar to What’s my Line? — a panel of four famous people were challenged to guess a contestant’s unusual or entertaining secret.
The secret was shown to the studio audience, as well as everyone watching on television, then each panelist was left with 30 seconds ask the contestant questions. When Seymour appeared in the studio on February 9, 1956, he whispered his secret to host Garry Moore: “I saw John Wilkes Booth shoot Abraham Lincoln.”
The four panelists for the day were: Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball.
Cullen was first to try and crack the secret of the elderly man. He would ask him if his secret held a historical and political significance. Cullen eased the job for Meadows, who was next, that this concerned a famous person who held a political office.
“You witnessed something to do with Abraham Lincoln,” correctly guessed Meadows, quickly proceeding to ask if the memory was pleasant. “Not very pleasant I don’t think. I was scared to death,” replied Seymour. See the rest in the video below.
Seymour was five-years-old when he accompanied his father on a working visit to Washington, D.C. As his father was absent due to his work, the young boy stayed with his nurse, Sarah Cook, and his godmother, Mrs. Goldsboro. The three of them attended the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater.
Seymour remembered the theater and the balcony, adorned with the American flag, reserved for President Lincoln. The President showed up and waved at the crowd. This was apparently the more pleasant memory of the evening.
The unpleasant one was made as the play reached its third act, and, as shared by Seymour, “all of a sudden, a shot rang out–a shot that always will be remembered–and someone in the President’s box screamed.”
Before appearing on I’ve Got a Secret, Seymour’s account of the assassination night featured in the February 7, 1954, edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel. A clip of the newspaper was shown by host Garry Moore as the episode concluded.
“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat. People started milling around and I thought there’d been another accident when one man seemed to tumble over the balcony rail and land on the stage. ‘Hurry, hurry, let’s go help the poor man who fell down,’ I begged. But by that time John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, had picked himself up and was running for dear life,” recalled Seymour.
John Wilkes Booth was on the run for 12 days after the assassination until he was found hiding in a barn.
Samuel J. Seymour passed away shortly after his television appearance in 1956 and a few days ahead of the 91st commemoration of President Lincoln’s death. He was laid to rest at Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.
Stefan A. is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs the blog This City Knows.