November 22, 1963, will forever be a stain in history. On this day, Abraham Zapruder never thought he would capture the most important film in American history to date. Just before noon, Zapruder set up his 8 mm Bell & Howell camera and began filming President John F. Kennedy‘s motorcade as it traveled through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The 25 second film would forever change his life and the lives of Americans.
However, Zapruder never wanted the film released.
“I don’t think the film could ever be considered a blessing, and it’s probably too strong to call it a curse,” his granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder told the New York Daily News in a 2013 interview. “The film was a burden on my grandfather … I am certain that he wished he had never taken it, and that no one would have to see it.”
Zapruder was a clothing executive who’s company warehouse was directly along JFK’s route and just opposite the Texas Book Depository.
Zapruder had planned to film the motorcade that day, but at the last minute left his camera at home because it was too cloudy. As the day went on and the clouds cleared, Zapruder’s secretary urged him to go home and grab the camera. “You’re the one that makes the beautiful movies,” she said.
Zapruder agreed. Little did he know this choice would define his life.
As Zapruder filmed, he heard an initial bang, but never lost focus. Then a second shot, which became the fatal blow as JFK’s head exploded at the moment of the bullet’s impact.
“They killed him!” he screamed. “They killed him!”
“I was still shooting the pictures until he got under the underpass,” he said. “I don’t even know how I did it,” Zapruder told the Warren Commissioner in July 1964.
Today, Dallas and cities across the world all have ‘Zapruder’s.’ Whether we like it or not, we can shoot footage and be eyewitnesses to crimes anywhere at anytime. Smartphones have changed the way we see things. People now capture every gory detail. These images will forever live on the internet. As a society we have become numb.
Most recently, Dallas has been affected by the violence and tragic murder of five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest.
When will we as a society take the things we see, get enlightened, and turn them into meaningful and positive actions.
If you would like to see the original film of Dealey Plaza Click HERE.
Today, the film remains stored inside a 25-degree room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. There 494 frames which stretch just under six feet.
The black camera bag owned by Zapruder, along with his camera, are also property of the archive and remain with their FBI evidence tags still attached.
No visitors are allowed to set foot inside the room. The film itself had not been removed from its cannister in more than a decade until recently to check its condition, said archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman.
The movie remained in excellent shape. See Zapruder’s camera below.