Zapruder kin talks about im­pact of fa­mous film

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Jonathan Tressler

For nearly two hours Oct. 11, a group in­side the Dr. Wayne L. Roder­horst Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at Lake­land Com­mu­nity Col­lege were treated to a rare glimpse into the story be­hind what is ar­guably one of the most haunt­ing home movies ever pro­duced.

Alexan­dra Zapruder, grand­daugh­ter of Abra­ham Zapruder, the Dal­las busi­ness­man who filmed Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion on Nov. 22, 1963, talked about the film, how it af­fected her fam­ily and how they be­came un­in­ten­tional care­tak­ers of the only as­sas­si­na­tion of a U.S. pres­i­dent caught on film.

The ca­sual, ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion be­tween Zapruder and Todd Ar­ring­ton, site man­ager at the Na­tional Parks Ser­vice James A. Garfield His­toric Site in Men­tor, played out like a fire­side chat in front of an au­di­ence of roughly 120.

Dur­ing a brief in­ter­view with Zapruder be­fore the pre­sen­ta­tion, she talked about what re­search­ing and writ­ing her 472-page au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ac­count of the film, en­ti­tled “Twenty-Six Sec­onds: A Per­sonal His­tory of the Zapruder Film,” meant to her and what she hopes the pub­lic gains from it.

“On my web­site, I have a quote by Abra­ham Joshua Heschel that says: ‘What hap­pened once upon a time hap­pens all the time.’ That is why I do it,” the 47-yearold writer and mother of two said shortly be­fore the pre­sen­ta­tion. “I be­lieve peo­ple in the past have as much com­plex­ity as we do to­day... and that sheds a light on the hu­man con­di­tion, on us liv­ing in the present.”

Zapruder’s re­sumé in­cludes

found­ing staff mem­ber of the U.S. Holo­caust Mu­seum in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; com­plet­ing her first book, Na­tional Jewish Book Award-win­ner “Sal­vaged Pages: Young Writ­ers’ Di­aries of the Holo­caust,” in 2002; writ­ing and co-pro­duc­ing “I’m Still Here,” a doc­u­men­tary film based on that book, which aired on MTV in May 2005 and work­ing with the non­profit group Fac­ing His­tory and Our­selves in an ef­fort to “de­velop in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als for (Sal­vaged Pages) de­signed for mid­dle and high school teach­ers,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from Ar­ring­ton.

“Twenty-Six Sec­onds” is her sec­ond book.

“I look for sto­ries that are com­pelling — that have truth in them,” she said Oct. 11. “I look for sto­ries that are not only about the past, but that are also rel­e­vant for the present.”

Just like she did dur­ing the pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion, Zapruder ex­plained be­fore­hand how deeply the Zapruder Film af­fected her fam­ily, who rarely spoke about it.

The film, which Abra­ham Zapruder in­tended to make as a keep­sake com­mem­o­rat­ing a pres­i­dent he and his fam­ily deeply sup­ported, cat­a­pulted them into the lime­light of in­trigue, con­spir­acy the­o­ries, me­dia bom­bard­ment and gov­ern­men­tal in­quiry, none of which was nec­es­sar­ily


Through­out the Oct. 11 pre­sen­ta­tion, Zapruder made it clear how gin­gerly her grand­fa­ther treated the film and its care. She talked about how much it meant to him to make sure it was han­dled with dig­nity and re­spect be­cause, af­ter all, it de­picts a grue­some, hor­ri­fy­ing event re­sult­ing in the death of a widely beloved U.S. pres­i­dent and the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math his fam­ily wit­nessed.

“I would say that, more than a bless­ing or a curse, it be­came a bur­den or a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she said be­fore the pre­sen­ta­tion. “It was a priv­i­lege, I think, for our fam­ily. But this isn’t any­thing any­body would’ve cho­sen.”

Ar­ring­ton in an Oct. 10 phone in­ter­view con­trasted Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion to James A. Garfield’s.

“The con­nec­tion for us is sim­ply that we’re talk­ing about an as­sas­si­nated pres­i­dent. But there’s no­body around to­day that was alive when James Garfield was as­sas­si­nated,” he said. “There are no photos and no­body alive to­day re­mem­bers it. A lot of peo­ple re­mem­ber the Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion and, not only do we have the mur­der of the pres­i­dent. But we have it on film.”

Both Ar­ring­ton and Zapruder spoke about the ar­ray of im­pli­ca­tions sur­round­ing the fa­mous 26-sec­ond film: tech­nol­ogy’s rapid evo­lu­tion, mat­ters of pri­vacy, copy­right, pub­lic record, ethics, free­dom of ex­pres­sion, own­er­ship, con­spir­acy and emo­tion, among others.

Zapruder said that, although the film brought her fam­ily into the pub­lic eye more than any of them would have prob­a­bly pre­ferred, “we cer­tainly tried to han­dle it with dig­nity and I think we’re bet­ter peo­ple for hav­ing grap­pled with these is­sues.”

Dur­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion, Zapruder talked about the bat­tle her fam­ily fought for cus­tody of the film and the lengths her grand­fa­ther went to make sure it was treated re­spon­si­bly.

Nearly 36 years af­ter be­ing made and through count­less le­gal bat­tles, the Zapruder fam­ily and a panel of fed­eral ar­bi­tra­tors set­tled on $16 million as the Zapruder Film’s worth.

That may seem like a for­tune. But, to the Zapruder fam­ily, it likely will never fully com­pen­sate them for the whirl­wind of in­quiry and at­ten­tion into which they were pulled.

Alexan­dra Zapruder, who put it this sim­ply dur­ing her talk — “We would’ve given back the money if we could’ve got­ten rid of the film, any day.”

When asked what she hopes peo­ple take away from her book, and from the pre­sen­ta­tion, she said one thing that’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant to her is that peo­ple re­al­ize, even with doc­u­men­ta­tion as poignant as the Zapruder Film, there are still so many unan­swered ques­tions sur­round­ing it.

“The Zapruder Film is a vis­ual record. But it doesn’t give us any an­swers or even an un­der­stand­ing of how this could hap­pen,” she said. “You can watch it and watch it again and still never un­der­stand why this hap­pened.”


James A. Garfield Na­tional His­toric Site man­ager Todd Ar­ring­ton, left, and Alexan­dra Zapruder look on at sep­a­rate screens as the 26-sec­ond Zapruder Film de­pict­ing Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963, as­sas­si­na­tion plays for the au­di­ence that at­tended Zapruder’s pre­sen­ta­tion Oct. 11 at Lake­land Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Kirt­land.

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