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Abraham Zapruder's camera. (Credit: National Archives)

What happened to the Zapruder film?

On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder shot what has become the most famous home movie of all time: a chilling 26-second snippet of film depicting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Russian-born Zapruder was a clothing manufacturer whose office sat across the street from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. On the day of the assassination, he and some of his employees went to Dealey Plaza to get a glimpse of the presidential motorcade. As Kennedy’s limousine passed, Zapruder began filming with his 8mm Bell & Howell camera and inadvertently captured the most complete record of the president’s murder.

Knowing his footage might prove valuable in a government investigation, Zapruder developed the 486-frame film and screened it for the Secret Service the following day. He also met with a representative from Life Magazine and agreed to sell all rights to the footage for the sum of $150,000. Plagued by nightmares of the film’s gruesome content, Zapruder only allowed the magazine to publish photos of the assassination footage on the condition that it remove frame 313—the moment in which Kennedy is shot in the head. The infamous frame would remain excised from all public versions of the film until 1975, when it was shown for the first time on reporter Geraldo Rivera’s television show “Good Night America.”

Zapruder’s film has since served as a major piece of evidence for government investigators, amateur detectives and conspiracy theorists alike. In early 1964, the Warren Commission spent weeks examining the footage and conducting tests on Zapruder’s camera during its official investigation of the assassination. Zapruder died in 1970, but Life Magazine later sold the film back to his family in 1975 for the token sum of $1.00. The Zapruders went on to license the footage to several other sources, including filmmaker Oliver Stone, who used it in his 1991 film “JFK.” Stone’s film helped lead to the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board, which would later decide that the U.S. government should own all footage related to the Kennedy assassination. As a result, the Justice Department awarded the Zapruder family $16 million for the original print in 1999. That same year, the family donated all copyrights on the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Image: Abraham Zapruder's camera. (Credit: National Archives)
Categories: John F. Kennedy, Kennedy Assassination

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