On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder created one of the most famous, and valuable, pieces of film and became forever linked with one of the greatest American national tragedies when he stood with his camera on an elevated concrete abutment as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
Exhibited here is one of the great rarities of American history, an authentically signed frame from that controversial Zapruder film, a silent, color motion picture sequence which he shot with a simple home-movie camera that fateful day.
Zapruder (1905-1970), an American manufacturer of women’s clothing, was born into a Russian-Jewish family in Kovel, Ukraine, and was educated at Hebrew school there. Amid the instability following the Russian Revolution, his family escaped the pogroms by immigrating to the United States (1920).
His father, Israel, who had preceded them years earlier, apparently had a variety of health problems, as he was later reported to have set the New York record for most ambulance rides in a year: he was brought to Brooklyn’s Bellevue hospital 13 times during 1928-29. Later, Zapruder arrived in New York with only his sister and his mother, Chana, because his brother, who had begun the trip, was pulled off the train and murdered by anti-Jewish thugs; Zapruder says he himself was spared only because of his blond hair.
Though he initially did not want to leave Brooklyn, where he had set up a darkroom as part of his fascination with photography, Zapruder moved to Dallas with his wife and two children in 1941. He had been working as a pattern cutter in the garment district and worked up to head of crew, but was lured to Dallas as production chief of a dress factory there. With his partner, Erwin Schwartz, he later started his own line, “Jennifer Juniors” (the name was derived from the movie star Jennifer Jones). At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, his offices were in the Dal-Tex Building, directly across the street east of the now famous Texas School Book Depository.
While there have been many assassinations and murders of prominent individuals, this was the first time one had been graphically captured on film. The Zapruder film was an important part of the Warren Commission hearings and all subsequent investigations of the assassination, and the 486 frames lasting 26.6 seconds remains one of the most studied pieces of film in history. Of greatest notoriety is the film’s depiction of the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head when his limousine was almost exactly in front of, and slightly below, Zapruder’s position.
Long after the tragic events of that day, the ferocious debate over who shot Kennedy shows few signs of abating due, in no small part, to Zapruder, who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The Zapruder film – which, though not the only film of the shooting, has been characterized as the most complete – plays the central role in the controversy over the alleged plot to murder the president and constitutes the launching point for most JFK assassination conspiracy theories.
Not surprisingly, many of these theories focus on alleged Jewish plots to murder the president, and many conspiracy theorists argue that the Jew Zapruder was somehow part of the plot. Zapruder himself had little use for the army of conspiracy theorists spawned by the assassination and, until his death from cancer, he believed, as the Warren Report concluded, that Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone.
Though he became an unwilling celebrity who despised the spotlight – his granddaughter later characterized it as “my grandfather’s accidental legacy” – Zapruder is today considered the grandfather of all “citizen journalists” in the Internet age.