Last Witness to Lincoln’s Death

Garry Moore & Sam Seymour

DATELINE: I’ve Got a Secret Episode of 2-8-1956

Of all the game show trivia of the 1950s, once in a while something bizarre and monumental occurs. A guest onI’ve Got A Secret, named Samuel J. Seymour, came to show at age 95.

A panel of celebrities would question the guest about some silly secret normally. They could ask questions as long as the guest answered, “Yes,” and a negative response let the next person ask their queries.

For a measly few dollars, this old man who fell on the way to show still insisted on appearing despite the bandage over his eye. The doctor recommended he cancel, but he bravely went on the show.

His horrifying secret?   He saw John Wilkes Booth shoot President Lincoln when he was five years old. He had been brought to Ford’s Theatre that night by his nurse as a birthday gift. He said he was scared to come to Washington as a boy, and at first he did not realize that the President had been shot.

He recalled the gunshot, but he was most upset as a child by the sight of a man tumbling out of the president’s box. Only a few moments later did people realize what horror had occurred. Abraham Lincoln slumped over in his chair.

The elderly gentleman was the last living witness to have seen the crime of United States history’s most gripping event. At the time it happened, he did not fully understand and thought a man had fallen out of the box onto the stage. He knew the man was injured in the fall.

In his old age he admitted that he still suffered from post-traumatic stress. He would dream of the shot fired fifty times in a night. Even in his nineties, he admitted that when he nodded off, he sometimes was awakened by the horror of hearing a shot and seeing the President slumped over.

Mr. Seymour appeared on television in February of 1956. On April 12 of that year, a mere eight weeks later, he would pass himself, taking his singular memory with him. He died on April 12, almost on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death and his walk into history annals.

His story appeared in American Weekly Magazine that year.

The eight-minute sequence is available on YouTube for those curious about how close to history we are in 2020.