Watch an interview with the last surviving witness to the Lincoln Assassination
Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.
It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.
"It wasn't a pleasant thing," Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford's Theater on a 1956 episode of I've Got A Secret. "I was scared to death."
When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President's smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.
"Pandemonium" then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of "Lincoln's shot! The President is dead!"
Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.
The man, of course, was Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play's funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President's booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin's boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President's box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.
Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn't understand it either.
"I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat," the old man said. "That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln's assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do."