Filming Kennedy: Home Movies from Dallas

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Charles Bronson

"[The Kennedys] were very friendly and acted like they were really enjoying the parade, and he was whole-heartedly into it. She had her hand on her hat and was waving with her glove."

Francis Bronson, widow of Charles Bronson
August 14, 1996
Oral History Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

For 45 year-old engineer Charles Bronson, November 22, 1963 was the culmination of a lifelong goal to see a president of the United States in person. Along with his wife, Frances, he traveled to Dealey Plaza with not one but two cameras, a Leica Model III for taking still photographs and a Keystone Olympic K-35 for filming color home movies.

The Bronsons stood atop a concrete pedestal in Dealey Plaza at the southwest corner of Main and Houston streets. When an ambulance arrived in the plaza to pick up an epileptic seizure victim a few minutes before the motorcade reached the area, Bronson filmed a short sequence “to capture that little bit of excitement,” not realizing that he also captured a portion of the Texas School Book Depository building on film.

As the presidential limousine drew near, Bronson filmed another brief sequence with his home movie camera before switching to take two still photographs as the car approached the turn onto Houston Street. Switching cameras again, Bronson filmed the limousine as it traveled north on Houston Street. He was holding his Leica camera, ready to take another still, when the first shot was fired and he instinctively snapped a photograph.

Within seconds, as the shooting continued, Bronson raised his home movie camera. His two-second clip captured the fatal shot to President Kennedy. Frances Bronson was watching through binoculars and did not realize what was happening. “I didn’t pay any attention to it,” she recalled in her 1996 oral history. “In fact, it didn’t register on me until Charles said, ‘Let’s get out of here. That’s a gun.’ ” The Bronsons immediately left the scene, and it was not until he returned to work that afternoon that he learned the president was dead.