Filming Kennedy: Home Movies from Dallas

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Abraham Zapruder

"And as I was shooting, as the president was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side."

Abraham Zapruder
November 22, 1963
WFAA Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Often called the most famous home movie in history, the only known film of the entire Kennedy assassination was captured by 58-year-old dress manufacturer Abraham Zapruder. His business, Jennifer Juniors, Inc., was located in the Dal-Tex building at 501 Elm Street, across the street from the Texas School Book Depository.

Although he intended to bring his Bell & Howell Director Series, Model 414 Zoomatic camera to work that day to photograph the presidential parade, he left the camera at home, noting that the morning was dreary and overcast. As lunchtime approached, the clouds lifted and Zapruder considered driving home to pick up his camera. Zapruder’s assistant, Lillian Rogers, convinced her boss to go home and get it, since it was not every day that a president drove by the office. After retrieving the camera, Zapruder arrived at Dealey Plaza to watch the procession.

Testifying to the Warren Commission in July 1964, he recalled, “I was trying to pick a space from where to take those pictures and... finally I found a place... near the underpass that was a square of concrete... maybe about 4 feet high.” On this elevated block extending from the decorative concrete pergola on the grassy knoll, Zapruder had a sweeping view of Elm Street.

Fearing he might get dizzy, Zapruder asked his receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, to stand behind him on the pedestal. “I know he took a picture of me as I walked up,” recalled Sitzman in her 1993 oral history. “He may have taken shots to see what his view was. I only remember when they started to make their first turn, turning into the street, he said, ‘Okay, here we go’ or something to that effect. That’s when I remember he started actually doing the filming.”

In a sequence lasting approximately 26 seconds, Zapruder filmed the Kennedy limousine after it turned onto Elm Street, and he captured the entire assassination. “I was standing up here and I was shooting through a telephoto lens,” Zapruder recalled in 1964, “[and] I heard the first shot and I saw the president lean over and grab himself.” Although he immediately thought that the president might be jokingly reacting to a loud noise, Zapruder then saw something horrifying through his viewfinder: “I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out.” Zapruder’s film would haunt him for the remainder of his life.