Taking the words printed in our history books at face value has become an exercise in futility. More and more often it seems that the events we’ve come to call “history” are asterisked with controversy. But even when scandal or misinformation don’t come into play, viewing a memorable event from an alternate perspective can sometimes flip history completely on its head.
When one 95-year-old man appeared on a classic game show, no one expected him to make any big waves. Yet, after revealing one shocking secret from his past, viewers across America were left reeling. And decades later, his confession about the death of one of the nation’s most beloved icons is still causing debate.
Debuting on CBS on June 19, 1952, I’ve Got a Secret captivated television audiences for the better part of 15 years. Unlike traditional game shows, I’ve Got a Secret didn’t test how much you knew: it was all about how much others knew about you.
Each round introduced a new contest with a wacky secret they were just dying to share. The audience knew right from the get go what this secret was, though it wasn’t their job to guess it.
Instead, a panel of four celebrity judges did the guess work. While the panel changed here and there over the years, it was primarily made up of game show personality Bill Cullen, comedian Henry Morgan, TV hostess Faye Emerson, and actress Jayne Meadows.
One by one, the judges took turns asking questions to see if they could get the contestant to spill their beans. For each judge they stumped, the contestant won $20 and could earn up to $80 for besting all four, a sum equal to around $750 today.
Over the years, a number of notable contestants appeared on the show and revealed plenty of juicy secrets. One of the earliest was Pete Best, who revealed that he was the original drummer of The Beatles.
The Beatles Bible
Nineteen-year-old college basketball star and future NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson was also a contestant. Along with 15-year-old chess champion Bobby Fischer and 16-year-old pop star Paul Anka, Robertson played a prominent role in an episode dedicated to “teenage appreciation.”
Even Colonel Sanders himself made an appearance on the show, though his secret didn’t involve his signature blend of herbs and spices. Instead, he shared that he started the very first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant with a social security check.
But perhaps the most memorable contestant to star on I’ve Got a Secret was 95-year-old Samuel J. Seymour. A Baltimore carpenter, Seymour appeared on the show on February 9, 1956, with a secret nearly 100 years in the making.
As was customary with each round, host Garry Moore began by giving the judges an initial clue. Addressing Cullen, Moore revealed that Seymour’s secret involved the 95-year-old having witnessed something in his past.
HistoryFlicks4u / YouTube
“This thing that Mr. Seymour saw,” Cullen began, “does it have historical significance?” Sure enough, the answer was “yes,” which led Cullen to his next question: “Does it have political significance?”
Once again Seymour nodded, leading Cullen to ask if the secret had anything to do with the Civil War. This time, however, Seymour didn’t respond with the affirmative, though he did admit that there was an indirect connection.
After the 95-year-old confirmed that the secret involved someone famous, Moore sounded the buzzer and passed the guessing to Meadows. The actress was quick to pick up where Cullen left off, asking whether or not this famous person was ever president of the United States.
I’ve Got a Secret! / YouTube
“I think he was once,” Seymour quipped, and following her next question Meadows discovered that the secret involved none other than President Abraham Lincoln. A few more clues followed, and, after mulling it over, Meadows went for broke: “Did Mr. Seymour witness the shooting of President Lincoln?”
The audience burst into applause, all but confirming Seymour’s secret. Not only had the Baltimore carpenter witnessed one of the greatest tragedies in American history, he was also that last living person to have done so.
When he was just five years old, Seymour joined his father on a trip to Washington after his father’s boss’ wife invited him along. Accompanied by his nurse, Seymour made the 150-mile journey to D.C., though he never expected the treat that’d be waiting for him when he arrived.
At the hotel, Seymour learned that he’d be attending a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre that very same night. And not only that: President Lincoln would be in attendance too.
Before the show that evening, Seymour caught a glimpse of the president as he entered the theater. He recalled him as a “tall, stern-looking man,” though Lincoln seemed in good spirits as he addressed the crowd. Then tragedy struck.
“All of a sudden a shot rang out — a shot that always will be remembered — and someone in the president’s box screamed,” Seymour recounted. “I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat… One man seemed to tumble over the balcony rail and land on the stage.”
Although Seymour wasn’t entirely aware of what had transpired in that moment, the memory of that night had stayed with him a full 90 years later. “I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination dozing in my rocker, as an old codger like me is bound to do,” he explained.
Despite Meadows having guessed his secret, Seymour was still awarded the full $80 prize to enthusiastic applause from the audience. And they wouldn’t have to wait long for another incredible revelation about a past president.
There are many things that have long gone unexplained Thomas Jefferson. We know he was the 3rd President of the United States and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence — but was the man who shaped so much of America really as good as he seems?
At the age of 26, Jefferson began construction on a 5,000-acre plantation that would go on to serve as his permanent residence until his death in 1826. Located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, the plantation was dubbed Monticello, which is Italian for “Little Mountain”.
While Monticello quickly grew to become a top producer of tobacco and wheat, it also gained notoriety for employing hundreds of slaves. With this in mind, a group of historians decided to delve deeper into the history of Monticello…
The various research and restoration efforts undertaken at Monticello over the years have collectively become known as the Mountaintop Project. It is through this $35-million initiative that historians hope to bring transparency to the plantation’s questionable past.
In 2017, archaeologists began an extensive excavation of Monticello’s main grounds. More specifically, they believed that the foundation of Jefferson’s original home (and the items within) was buried beneath the structure that stands on the grounds today.
Shortly after the excavation began, archaeologists uncovered what was once the original mansion’s kitchen. This unexpected find lead to the further excavation of the area, which resulted in the discovery of what was known as the Jefferson mansion’s South Wing.
As historians explored the South Wing, they came upon a peculiar set of slave quarters. After inspecting the area, they were stunned to learn that these quarters had once belonged to the notorious Sally Hemings.
According to the history books, Hemings wasn’t just an ordinary slave: she was actually the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife Martha, conceived from an affair between Martha’s father, John Wayles, and one of his slaves, Betty Hemings.
As part of Martha’s inheritance, Hemings and her family came to Monticello in 1773, when Sally was just an infant. Described as “mighty near white” by a fellow slave, Hemings’ mixed race lineage still wasn’t enough to free her from the bonds of servitude. Or so she thought.
In 1787, a 14-year-old Hemings accompanied young Mary Jefferson to Paris where her father was serving as the United States’ minister to France. It is here that many historians believe that Jefferson and Hemings began a romantic relationship.
trialsanderrors / Flickr
As Sally began having children, rumors swirled throughout Virginian society about Jefferson’s relationship with his slave. Not only were Sally’s children considerably more light-skinned than she was, but a few of them even looked suspiciously like her master…
A journalist who had been slighted by Jefferson years earlier published a scathing accusation in the Richmond Recorder in an attempt to discredit Jefferson’s legitimacy as a presidential candidate. Jefferson denied the rumors, of course, and was elected President in 1801.
Although Jefferson never admitted to his affair with Hemings, he did eventually free all four of her children. It has also been confirmed that following Jefferson’s death, Hemings was granted her freedom by Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha, and went on to live as a free woman with her two sons, Madison and Eston.
Thomas Jefferson Monticello
Eston Hemings went on to play a key role in solidifying the claim that Jefferson fathered Hemings’ children during a 1990 DNA study. After comparing DNA taken from descendants of both Jefferson and Sally Hemings, scientists conclusively determined that, at the very least, Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings.
New York Amsterdam News
So how does the discovery at Monticello relate to the controversy surrounding Jefferson and Hemings? Well, after historians consulted the blueprints of Jefferson’s original home, they found that Jefferson’s bedroom was actually connected to Hemings’ quarters.
The Mary Sue
Physical evidence discovered at the site also confirmed that Hemings maintained a lifestyle that was significantly better than that of her fellow slaves. Rather than living in cramped shacks, Hemings had her own quarters and other special treatment.
Jefferson in Paris
Since the discovery of Hemings’ quarters, special efforts have been made to restore the entirety of the South Wing as a tourist attraction dedicated to Hemings’ life. For the first time, there will be a space at Monticello to commemorate this previously unknown woman’s place in American history.
The Mountaintop Project has also made a dedicated effort to teach the visitors of Monticello about the lives and struggles of the slaves who resided there during Jefferson’s lifetime. With these new revelations about Hemings coming to light, several tours have also been added that shed light on Sally and her family.
As historians and curators work to restore Monticello to its former glory, the story of Sally Hemings has become an integral part of the shaping of Jefferson’s narrative. Their hope is that Hemings may now hold a permanent place in history along with Jefferson.
Sally Hemings: An American Scandal
By incorporating the truth back into the annals of history we can better understand our past and give due honor to those who deserve it. Unfortunately, extracting the truth doesn’t always yield the happiest results, especially in regards to the White House.
Though it may be hard to believe, the name “White House” wasn’t used to refer to the presidential residence until Theodore Roosevelt adopted the moniker in 1901. Before then, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was known as the “President’s Palace” and the “Executive Mansion”.
Described as a mini-mall by White House staff, the basement of the storied structure has become one of its liveliest floors. The former WWII bunker comes complete with a flower shop, chocolate shop, and even a dentist’s office!
The White House may appear to have stood the test of time, but the glossy mansion that sits on the grounds today isn’t the original. In retaliation for the destruction of several British buildings during the Battle of York in 1812, the British army set the White House ablaze in 1814 and nearly burnt it to the ground.
Life in the White House may seem luxurious, but living here is anything but a free ride. Not only does the President have to foot the bill for his stay in the home, but he’s also expected to pay out of pocket for many of the White House’s extravagant events.
Despite commissioning and supervising its construction, George Washington never actually lived in the White House. Washington’s term as president ended shortly before the house was completed, making John Adams the first resident of the executive mansion.
Like most old homes, the White House is reportedly haunted by a number of ghosts, including a soldier from the War of 1812 that’s been spotted wandering the halls of the East Wing. But there’s one ghost, in particular, that’s had a number of presidential guests shaking in their boots…
That’s right: ol’ honest Abe himself! On more than one occasion, guests staying in Lincoln’s bedroom reported seeing the ghost of the former president appear before them. In fact, Winston Churchill was once scared half to death after spotting Lincoln’s ghost as he stepped out of the bathtub.
Civil War Profiles / Style Weekly
After noticing that the press break room was without a coffee machine during a White House visit in 2004, Tom Hanks went ahead and ordered one himself. He did so again in 2010 and even purchased the press corps an espresso machine in 2017 to go with their coffee.
Another White House hassle is move-in day when the new president and former president are expected to move in and out at the same time. In fact, staffers have only 12 hours to swap out all the furniture and tidy up the place on inauguration day.
When electricity was first introduced to homes in 1891, many people were understandably skeptical about how safe electrical appliances really were. This included President Benjamin Harrison, who never touched a single light switch in the White House out of fear of being electrocuted.
Rob Walker / Flickr
While the White House may seem one-of-a-kind, it actually has a twin in Dublin, Ireland. James Hoban, who designed the presidential palace, was so inspired by the architecture of the Irish Parliament’s Leinster House that he incorporated many of its features when designing the White House. But that’s not all.
Surprisingly, the White House also has another twin near Bordeaux, France. The Château de Rastignac is an almost identical replica of the White House, and some suspect that Thomas Jefferson borrowed the concept from its designer, Mathurin Salat, during his time in France.
Most people don’t consider the White House to be a piece of real estate, but in reality, the presidential residence does have an established price tag. With 135 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 28 fireplaces, the 550,000-square-foot home is estimated to be worth a whopping $412 million.
In addition to presidents, the Oval Office has also seen a number of pets pass through its doors. Woodrow Wilson kept a herd of sheep on the grounds, and Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter owned a snake named Emily Spinach. Yet these pets pale in comparison to the ones kept by Calvin Coolidge…
National Geographic Kids
Coolidge kept a literal zoo of animals on the White House grounds, including bears, lion cubs, wallabies, and a 600-pound pygmy hippo. Oh, and his wife Grace also kept a pet raccoon named Rebecca.
National Geographic Kids
Every President is known to put their own personal touch on the executive mansion, but some of them may have gone a little overboard. Franklin Roosevelt built an indoor pool, Nixon put in a private bowling alley, and Lyndon Johnson installed a high-pressure shower strong enough to pin a man against the wall!
After firing architect and engineer Pierre L’Enfant, George Washington held a contest in order to solicit designs for the presidential estate. Little did he know that future president Thomas Jefferson — under the initials A.Z. — submitted a blueprint of his own in an effort to claim the $500 ($12,700 today) prize.
Sorry, Graceland: the White House is easily the most popular residence in America. Aside from corralling droves of camera-happy tourists, White House staffers field 65,000 letters, 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes a day.
White House Public Domain
When Michelle Obama claimed that the White House was built by slaves, she wasn’t lying. Not only do historic payroll documents show that enslaved workers were heavily used during the White House’s construction, but immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Scotland were also hired for the job.
The White House may not have always been known as such, but it was definitely always white, right? Wrong! Before 1818, workers simply refreshed the house’s lime-based whitewash every now and again, making it the “Kind-of-White House”.
Parks and Recreation