The Ann Arbor District Library Downtown, along with the Greater JCC of Ann Arbor, welcome author Alexandra Zapruder from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the AADLD. Alexandra recently talked to WeLoveAnnArbor’s Terry Jacoby about her new book “Abraham Zapruder: Twenty-six Seconds.”
Abraham Zapruder was on his way to watch the presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza when his assistant suggested, at the last minute, that he bring along his new film camera.
Such are the modest beginnings of what became the most famous 26-second film in the world which captured the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m. in Dallas.
Abraham’s granddaughter, Alexandra, reveals the complete story of her grandfather’s film: its inauspicious beginnings (initially no one was even interested), what it meant for the Zapruder family and how one man’s unexpected moment of fame changed the way in which history is understood in her new book “Abraham Zapruder: Twenty-six Seconds.”
“I grew up in a family that didn’t really talk a lot about the film,” said Zapruder. “It was a painful memory for my parents and my grandparents. It wasn’t until after my father died that I started thinking about all the family records and the people who were close to my father and grandparents and others who were connected in one way or another to the life of the film. I’m a writer of history so it was interesting from that point of view but as I began to educate myself on the life of the film I began to realize how much was missing from the public story because our family had been so resistant to talking about it.
“It quickly became more than just my own effort to gather these materials and put this together because of the bigger story that needed to be told.”
Originally intended as a home movie of President Kennedy’s motorcade, Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination is now a part of history. And what has been lost in all the conspiracy questions and the mystery surrounding that day is the effect it had an Americans at the time.
“My grandfather was very distraught and was approached by a reporter at Dealey Plaza who asked for the film, but my grandfather told him that he needed to get it to the federal authorities,” Zapruder said. “It was the head of the secret service who came to my grandfather’s office. They had it developed but the secret service didn’t take the film, leaving it with my grandfather so he was responsible for figuring out what to do with it.”
Zapruder said her grandfather struggled with the aftermath of what he saw through the lens but also because her grandparents “loved President Kennedy.”
“Like everyone else in the nation he was devastated by what happened,” she said. “He was heartbroken. And this really isn’t something you want to be known for let alone famous for.”
During the course of piecing the book together, Zapruder said she learned quite a bit about not only those 26 seconds but what happened after that tragic day in Dallas.
“This was first and foremost a home movie and very personal to my grandfather,” said Zapruder, whose first book “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” is a collection of diaries written by young people during the Holocaust. “He was concerned with how it was handled and the discretion and respect for the Kennedy family was paramount. Over the years that had to be balanced with the public’s need and desire to see the film.”
The film was sold to Life Magazine the day after the assassination but returned to the Zapruder family in 1975.
“So it was my grandfather’s responsibility to figure out how people should handle it and that whole story was incredibly interesting to me and there was so much more there than I ever suspected,” Zapruder said.
While this is certainly a personal story, Zapruder made a point to “tackle it as honestly and forth rightfully as I could in terms of all the difficult issues the film has raised over the years.”