The Current

26 seconds: The history behind Zapruder's JFK assassination film

Whether you're old enough to remember the assassination of JFK, the image that likely comes to mind is from an amateur film shot by Abraham Zapruder. His granddaughter shares the story of how the 486 frames of film still haunts America.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, shortly before his assassination in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963. (OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

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Where were you on Nov. 22, 1963?

Abraham Zapruder, a dressmaker in Dallas, was aiming his 8 mm home movie camera at the presidential motorcade passing in front of him.  

For 26 seconds he filmed a murder — the assassination of John F Kennedy. 

After having copies of the film made for the authorities, he returned with his film to his house that night, his mind filled with concerns about what he should do with his gruesome home movie.

"I think he feared it would be exploited ... it would be splashed all over the television,"  Abraham Zapruder's granddaughter, Alexandra Zapruder tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 
In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, the limousine carrying mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy races toward the hospital seconds after he was shot in Dallas. (Justin Newman/Associated Press)

Her book, Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film, takes a close look at the at the film her grandfather shot and the controversy that's followed it since.

"And that there would be a lack of respect for the Kennedy family, and their grief."

Abraham Zapruder's assistant told him to go home to get his camera to film presidential motorcade, Nov. 22, 1963. (Courtesy of the Zapruder family)
Abraham Zapruder was also concerned about an anti-Semitic backlash if it became known how much he was paid by Life Magazine for the rights to the movie.

"Dallas was a very reactionary city at the time," says Alexandra. "And he was worried that old stereotypes about Jews making money, from not just terrible events but any events, that those types of stereotypes would come back to haunt him."

Alexandra tells Tremonti the obsession some people have with the film is because it doesn't give an absolute answer to what happened that day.

"The film itself embodies these compelling conundrums. It both shows us exactly what happened and it doesn't show us exactly what happened. So people keep looking and looking to try to find the answers."

"And as long as America doesn't have an agreed upon story of how our president got murdered, that remains an open wound."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.