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 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.
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.