Z is for Abraham Zapruder

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.
Abraham Zapruder

Abraham Zapruder

One of the most iconic and infamous images of the communication age is the amateur film that records the assassination of John Kennedy taken by Abraham Zapruder.

Now known as the Zapruder Film, he almost didn’t take his camera that fateful day. Although he had planned to watch the motorcade pass on Dealey Plaza, it was his assistant’s idea that he should collect his camera from home.

Zapruder had his own women’s clothing manufacturing business and his offices were in the Dal-Tex Building, directly opposite the Texas School Book Depository.

He waited for the motorcade to pass stood on top of a concrete block with his secretary propping him up from behind and began filming as the President’s car turned on to Elm Street.

Zapruder's Camera

Zapruder’s Camera

Zapruder was using a top of the range 8 mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director camera that he’d bought the year before and the next 26.6 seconds were captured on 486 frames of Kodak Kodachrome II safety film.

In the confusion that followed Kennedy’s assassination, Zapruder ran into the reporter Harry McCormick and explained what he had filmed McCormick brought secret service agent Forrest Sorrels to Zapruder’s office.

He handed over the film to assist with the investigation and it was eventually it was taken to Eastman Kodak’s office to be processed.

Zapruder was interviewed live that evening on the WFAA television station and said:

And as I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this. Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn’t say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up.

Zapruder at WFAA

Zapruder at WFAA

The following morning, he sold the print rights to Life magazine for $50,000 and later the whole rights to the film for $150,000, giving $25,000 to the widow of the policeman who had also been murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald.

However, Zapruder was haunted by a nightmare in which he saw a booth in Times Square advertising ‘See the President’s head explode!’ and a condition of the sale to Life magazine was that frame 313 showing the fatal shot should be withheld.

The camera that Zapruder used that day is now in the collection of the US National Archives. He died of stomach cancer in 1970 and the 2007 film Frame 313 tells his story.

Below is the fateful Zapruder Film from YouTube.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 11th July 2012

    A great retelling of a tragic day. I was 10 that day, and it’s still fresh in my mind.

    And your clip reminds me of that glib KINKS song,

    When Oswald shot Kennedy, he was insane But still we watch the re-runs again and again We all sit glued while the killer takes aim Hey Mom, there goes a piece of the President’s brain

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • photowannabe 11th July 2012

    I was in college and going to my next class when people started talking about Kennedy.
    I will never forget that day.
    Thank you for sharing about Zapruder.

  • Leslie 11th July 2012

    Even we Canadians were shocked! School was cancelled and everyone stayed home glued to the television for days, weeks even! I was home sick that day and I remember my mother running into my room to tell me to get up and come downstairs – “The President has been shot!” she yelled at me. I can’t watch the video – sorry!

    abcw team

  • Chrissy Brand 11th July 2012

    Another Wednesday, another biog of someone I have nevee heard of! Thanks for educating me, my Stopfordian friend;-)

  • rhymeswithplague 11th July 2012

    Everyone of a certain age — my age — knows who Abraham Zapruder was.

  • Arctic Fox 12th July 2012

    interesting AND informative! You’re killing two birds…. no offence Parrot!….. with one stone….. or was it two stones…. I can’t be sure!!

  • Roger Green 12th July 2012

    AF- I assume one of the Stones is Oliver.

  • Arthur (AmeriNZ) 12th July 2012

    Yes, I did know who this guy was, though I was too young at the time(I was four) to grasp most of what was going on. When I saw the film years later, it sent chills down my spine, and still does. This sort of accidental historic film is bound to be more common in the future, with all these video smartphones around.


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