Witness to Abraham Lincoln's Death on 1956 TV Game Show

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We tend to think of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth as something that occurred in an almost forgotten time. It's odd to think of people who were in the theater where the president was shot being alive to appear on television. But that is just what happened. Samuel J. Seymour of Maryland, who at the time was the last surviving witness to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, was the mystery guess on the February 8, 1956, episode of the game show I've Got a Secret. He was 95 years old at the time. This is a video of that episode.

I've Got a Secret Game Show

The premise of I've Got a Secret was that a mystery guest harboring a secret would appear. Hints regarding the secret would be given to celebrity panelists, who would attempt to guess what it was. Lucille Ball was one of the panelists on the show that evening, along with Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan.

Samuel's account of what he witnessed was chronicled in a story in the Milwaukee Sentinel on February 7, 1954. He was five years old when he witnessed the event.

Seymour's father was the overseer on the Goldsboro estate in Talbot, Maryland and he had to go to Washington with Mr. Goldsburo to take care of a legal matter concerning Goldsboro's 150 slaves. This was happening just after the end of the Civil War. The 13th Amendment had been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in January 1865 and Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox three months later. Maryland had already ratified the amendment in February, but it would take until December for all the states to follow suit. We can only guess at what this "legal matter" was involving the slaves, but they would soon be, in terms of the law, at least, freed.

Mrs. Goldsboro asked if she could take Sam and his nurse Sarah along with them for a holiday, so Sam ended up coming along. They traveled by horse and wagon from Talbot County, Maryland to Washington, a trip of 150-miles, and finally arrived at a large hotel on the evening of April 14, 1865. Sam was intimidated by the giant hotel and frightened by the men with guns he saw in the streets. General Lee had surrendered a few days earlier and Washington was celebrating.

Box in Ford's Theater where Abraham Lincoln was shot
Box in Ford's Theater where Abraham Lincoln was shot

Tickets to Ford's Theater

After checking into the hotel and getting Sam cleaned up, Mrs. Goldsboro announced a surprise, the three of them were to attend a play (at Ford's Theatre), and what's more, President Abraham Lincoln would be there. To Sam's child's mind, a play was "like a game of tag" so this all sounded fine to him. They bought tickets at the Ford Theater and went upstairs to their seats, where Mrs. Goldsboro pointed across the theater to a box with colorful drapes, saying "See those flags, Sammy? That's where President Lincoln will sit."

When the president entered Mrs. Goldsboro lifted Sam up high so he could see the tall be-whiskered man who was smiling and waving to the crowd. Then everyone sat down and the play began.

President Lincoln Is Shot

Just as Sam was starting to relax and get over the frightened feeling he'd felt since arriving, a shot rang out, causing someone in Lincoln's box to scream. Sam saw Lincoln slump forward in his seat.

People started milling around and then Same saw a man "seem to tumble over the balcony rail and land on the stage." He thought the man had fallen from the balcony and begged that they should go help him.

But this man had not fallen. He had jumped. It was John Wilkes Booth himself, who picked himself up and ran out of the theater. Same saw but, because of all the chaos, few people really noticed him at the time. Booth was not caught until 12 days later at a barn where he had been hiding.

"Lincoln's shot! The President's dead! Sam heard somebody cry.

Sam never stopped thinking about that day, reliving the horror over in his mind "dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do."

Posted on 02 Apr 2018 20:09

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