Zapruder film captured Kennedy’s assassination


Posted Oct 16, 2017 at 12:01 AM Updated Oct 16, 2017 at 4:08 PMhh Zapruder1

HUDSON – The assassination of President John F. Kennedy continues to impact generations.

For one family, its effects have been uniquely, “hauntingly” historic.

Alexandra Zapruder, granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder, the Dallas man who captured those indelible 26 seconds on film from the Grassy Knoll on Nov. 22, 1963, shared her family’s history to a packed room of more than 150 people Oct. 10 at the Hudson Library and Historical Society.

The Zapruder film was a home movie, Alexandra said — key to understanding it as an historic document and its effects on her family.

“If you don’t understand it was a home movie made by an individual with a family history, you can’t understand the life of the film,” she said.

Abraham Zapruder, a dressmaker and Russian immigrant who came to the country in 1920, left his shop (“Jennifer Juniors”) on Dealey Plaza that fateful morning, stopping briefly at home to pick up his 8mm video camera to capture the president’s visit.

“He loved technology and progress,” Alexandra said. “He was a modern man.”

Abraham and his family also loved Kennedy.

“My family were real Kennedy fans,” Alexandra said.

Abraham arrived around noon at his selected perch, a concrete abutment on the Grassy Knoll, to capture the moments when the motorcade passed. The twenty-six seconds of color film ultimately captures Kennedy emerging after a sign with his hands to his throat — and then being hit by what is believed to have been the final, fatal shot.

Darwin Payne, a reporter with the Dallas Times Herald (which ceased publication in 1991), interviewed Abraham after the shooting. Alexandra showed a clip of the interview, as her grandfather describes hearing the shots, seeing the president’s head “opened up” and knowing Kennedy was dead long before Walter Cronkite announced it.

“The killing of the president belonged to the [Russian] world he had left behind,” Alexandra said. “Violence on the street didn’t happen in a democratic society. It was more than he could bear. He couldn’t believe [President Kennedy] was shot down like a dog.”

Abraham had the film processed and three copies made, she said. Two went to the Secret Service. He drove home with the camera, the original print and the other copy.

“For him, it was a nightmare,” Alexandra said. “He didn’t know what to do with it.”

Richard Stolley, journalist and editor of LIFE Magazine, called in the days following the assassination. Abraham was said to have trusted the then-reporter, that Stolley might treat the film with respect and not exploit it. He sold the film to LIFE for $150,000.

“He agonized over it,” Alexandra said. “He didn’t sell to the highest bidder or give it away.”

The Zapruder family gave $20,000 from sale of the film to the widow of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas officer whom Oswald shot and killed the same day as Kennedy. Ironically, both Tippit and Oswald were buried the same day, after Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby days after Oswald’s arrest.

Alexandra noted that her family was criticized through the years for selling the film to LIFE, which printed 31 black and white frames from the video in its Nov. 29, 1963, edition, leaving out the fatal shot.

The first rule of the Zapruder film, Alexandra said, was not to talk about the Zapruder film — both out of respect to the Kennedy family and because of the moral dilemma it posed for Abraham, Alexandra said.

The film haunted the Zapruder family.

“It was horrible to see and disrespectful to the Kennedy family,” Alexandra said.

In 1975, as the film was under the auspices of LIFE magazine, a pirated copy was released on television, and LIFE returned the rights to the Zapruder family. Alexandra’s father, Henry, tried to allow some viewing but limit it. The film was used in the 1991 JFK film by Oliver Stone.

In 1998, ownership was transferred to the JFK Collection at the National Archives Records Administration. The U.S. Justice Department paid the family $16 million, about half of what the film’s value was capped at. The Zapruders have retained the copyrights.

In 2000, the Zapruder family donated the film copies, photographs and all copyrights to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Most of the people in the room at the library were old enough to be alive that fateful Friday in Dallas, coming up on 54 years ago this Nov. 22.

During the question period at the end, Al McCaulley of Tallmadge stood up and offered another unique perspective.

From 1958 to 1967, he said, he worked in the photo lab for the FBI in Washington, D.C., and was called in for a 24-hour shift the day after Kennedy was shot to handle a special film coming in from Dallas.

McCaulley said the now iconic Zapruder film “seemed longer than 26 seconds.”

“Everyone sees something different [in the film],” he said.

Alexandra agreed, and says it raises more questions than answers, including conspiracy theories.

“The film is a visual record but it complicates the discussion,” she said.

Abraham died when Alexandra was 11 months old, so she researched his life and ultimately authored “Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film.”

“Everyone else got to know him — but not me,” Alexandra said.

In 2004, Alexandra’s father died and the film became her responsibility.

“I had to take responsibility for the Zapruder film and those who were part of it,” Alexandra said. “I was a writer so it was natural for it to fall to me, but I knew nothing about the film. I ran into historical gaps and misinterpretations of the family story.”

Alexandra’s resume extends far beyond being an author and curator to both national and family history. She is a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

A graduate of Smith College, she served on the curatorial team for the museum’s exhibition for young visitors, Remember The Children, Daniel’s Story. She earned her master’s degree in education at Harvard University in 1995.

In 2002, Alexandra completed her first book, “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” which was published by Yale University Press and won the National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category. She wrote and co-produced “I’m Still Here,” a documentary film for young audiences based on her book, which aired on MTV in May 2005 and was nominated for two Emmy awards.


Phone: 330-541-9434



Editing your story

Editing your work with editor Jennifer Fisher, speaker at Hudson Library and Historical Society on Sept. 25, 2017.

Self editing your novel – to enhance work, streamline, robust language, create a product to sell

Type of editing

  1. Development (subjective) – what is the big picture, characterization, plot development, and narrative flow
  2. Line editing – focus on prose, word choice, paragraph structure, and sentence flow
  3. Copy editing – check facts, punctuation, and capitalization
  4. Proofreading – eliminate typos

Keep notes on lingering questions or items to check for clarity and accuracy. Review comments from others but stick to your gut instinct. Reread your manuscript.

Narrative voice – Should be unique, consistent, and reader should “hear” the voice.

Setting – When, geography clear, if historical work, introduce to all the customs, mores, and way of life.

Timing – Storyline length, need dates and make clear how much time as passed in the story.

Tense – Most are past tense. All verbs need to be consistent.

Plot – Needs a beginning, middle, and end. Are there too many subplots that distract from the main plot? Can you distill plot to 1-2 sentences? Bring some originality to the story line. Most plots have been written. What makes your story different?

Pacing – Moves along smoothly and evenly. Are the chapters a consistent length? Are there long scenes that take over story line and slow down narrative pace? Does story move along too quickly or confuse reader? The story should slow down at climax.

Characters – How large is the cast? Are all necessary? Are you familiar with the background of each main character? Do you know them? Be aware of names – keep them distinct and not sounding alike.

Point of View – 1st or 3rd person limited. How many characters have POV? Introduce all characters in 1st few chapters and be consistent in how you refer to them. Cycle through POVs regularly. Do not head hop!

Incorporating the unfamiliar – Don’t assume others know what you know. Explain complicated concepts and devices. Example is military terminology, foreign countries, futuristic worlds.

Series or stand alone – If first in a series, drop in element that can be picked up in later books. If stand alone, resolve the plot

The first page – Pulls reader into the story. Make sure the first sentence, first paragraph, first page will entice reader. How many characters are introduced in first page? Sense of setting and mood established.

Give feeling of what to expect in story – Give clear picture of setting, pose questions to create interest. Is the mood scary, suspicious, or upbeat?

The first chapter – Introduce most of the characters, tell the reader what to expect and make them want to read more. A dead body should appear by chapter 3 in a mystery, and a romance should start by page 30.

The ending – Is it satisfying? Is the central plot resolved? Does it wrap everything up?




Writing a young adult novel

Every writer should attend conferences or classes to improve their craft. I attended the 34th Annual Western Reserve Writer’s Conference Sept. 23 at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The event was free and had a variety of workshops and speakers.

What you need to know about the Young Adult market by J T Dutton, assistant professor of English and creative writing at Hiram College and author to two teen novels.

Know the voice of a teen – the want to make their own decisions and stakes are high

  1. Love is first love, crushing love, eternal love
  2. Story about loss – first loss, excruciating loss
  3. Adventure – fate of world hangs in balance

Don’t teach a lesson; celebrate a complex, deeply felt phase of life.

See the world at the teen’s level who has to work out problems herself.

Teens like complicated stories with social problems – characters can be good and bad at the same time.

The protagonist discovers right and wrong for herself.

Use reasoning, humor, and emotion to express teen.

Teens push against the moral code and want to figure right and wrong out for themselves.

They want to take on complex ideas and reason out complex problems.

Maintain playful goofiness of young years mixed with adult philosophy.

The importance of I – The POV should be first person or close third person perspective – the protagoinist speaks to a personal friend or confidant and lays the soul bare.

Create and show inside jokes and language (create slang that only the teens in your story use – don’t copy any real slang because it is outdated quickly.)

When writing as a teen, speak in a distinct language – create private language for them. Language should be consistent and character derived.

Give them a chance to see things differently than the people around them.

Describe an event with teen commentary to show their perspective.

Use present tense or past tense without the long lens of reflection to keep story in now. It should be a recent perspective.

Validate a teen reader’s experience of time and place even when using a historical setting – address present day social concerns or illuminate generational similarities. Ex. “Catcher in the Rye”

Historical novels for young adults – they look at the past in new ways and how to relate to the present. Capture stories not told in history books.

Teens want to see themselves in the book. “Anne Frank” showed her teen experience.

Foreshorten the adult world, minimizing the interference of authority (many protagonist are orphaned in some way) so they are facing problems alone.

Adult character should speak differently from teens. In the televisions show, 90210, the parents were nerds. The kids were cool.

Use verbs that pop – listen to the sounds of language and focus on cadence.

Honor ethnicity and personal origins. Expand ideas about identity using background and roots so that story belongs to everyone.

Use cynicism and snarkiness but understand the ways in which language protects or hides deeper feelings.

Use the honesty of a teen narrator to cut through hypocrisy in their setting, not to diminish or reduce.

The acceptance as closure to a story – narrator understands that life isn’t perfect

The story works through the problem, accepts understanding of self and the world is not perfect.

The view the world as adult in a more complicated way.




Writing a cozy mystery

Every writer should attend conferences or classes to improve their craft. I attended the 34th Annual Western Reserve Writer’s Conference Sept. 23 at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The event was free and had a variety of workshops and speakers.

Amanda Flower book2Amanda Flower explained the difference between a Cozy Mystery and regular mystery.

A cozy mystery usually has a funny title. Amanda’s new book is “Assaulted Caramel.”

  1. A cozy is a subgenre of a standard mystery
  2. Death takes place off stage
  3. Minimal to no sex or violence
  4. Few if any curse words. It’s a sweet book but people are killed in it. It’s similar to Agatha Christie but funnier and sweeter.

Hardboiled mysteries are darker, more graphic and more cynical – Patricia Cornwell is an example

Soft boiled mysteries are lighter and more humorous; they focus on puzzle solving

Elements of a Cozy Mystery or topes, standards for a genre, that a reader expects in that genre. You can break or embrace them.

  1. Protagonist

She is an amateur sleuth and her job is NOT in law enforcement (Stephanie Plum is bond enforcer but not very good at her job.)

A shop is often a setting – garden, candy, etc.

The protagonist has a flaw – what is her damage?

She is a good person who wants to do the right thing but gets into trouble and snoops or meddles.

She thinks she can help by using her skills. She gets involved because of a connection to the person killed.

She wants justice served or she is the main suspect or someone she loves is the suspect

MOTIVATION is everything – she has to have a reason for doing the dangerous task of solving the crime.

  1. The cozy voice

Light and funny, humorous. Shows the protagonist has a life outside of the story – relief from tension.

All mysteries have right or wrong, good or bad and in the end justice prevails.

  1. Supporting cast

Small town with quirky people. Everyone helps or hinders the protagonist – the details of the story. Some kind of animal is in story (some talk) and a sidekick most of the time who is quirky and has the good lines.

  1. Love interest

Single woman 9/10 times her boyfriend is in law enforcement. She needs someone to get info from or someone involved in the investigation. Meet cute (watch The Holiday movie) – first meeting or first time reunited after long absence. Love gone wrong or something wrong with the person for getting involved. Has the tone of Janet Evanovich where Stephanie is a disaster waiting to happen but somehow “gets her man.”

  1. Unlikeable victim

9/10 person killed everyone wanted him dead so you have a lot of suspects. 1 real, 3 suspicious ones and 3 throwaways that are cleared quickly. All have great reasons to kill – love or money. An option for the victim is some redeemable trait.

  1. Lots of Suspense

In all mysteries their livelihood is threatened or a sick family member needs money for an operation. Every chapter should end with a hook to make the reader turn the page. James Patterson has short chapters, but reader keeps reading to find out what happens next.

  1. Red herrings and clues

Clues lead to the killer.

Red herrings lead away from the killer, misdirect and confuse the reader but do not irritate. Don’t leave loose ends. Everything is done with intention and logical. The clues tie the story together and makes sense to the reader.

Trick the reader – they think they know who the killer is but in the end someone else but makes sense. Do not have killer to jump out late in the story. He must be introduced early.

  1. The killer can be likeable or hated.

Sympathetic character is upset and makes stupid decisions to murder someone.

Action has MOTIVATION. He doesn’t kill because of psycho behavior. Killer is a normal person that snaps under stress.

Motivation – son dying and needs money to pay bills. An elected official has gambling problem and used public funds. They make a stupid decision concerning love or money and kill someone to hide mistake.

Killer’s rationalization – he had to kill the unlikeable troublemaker.

How to kill: blunt force trauma; stabbing; strangling; poison

9/10 murder crime of passion but in cozy – plan the murder

  1. Protagonist in Peril

Reach the climax and wrap up in four pages. Once the mystery is solved, end the story. The final setting should be familiar to the reader from earlier in the story. The protagonist has put the clues together and figured out who the killer is but he arrives with gun and she has to get herself and others out of trouble. Protagonist saves herself and others NOT cop or someone else. She’s the heroine.

Mystery subgenres: Golden Age; Police Procedure; Forensic; Private Eye; Thriller

First person is more common – reader finds same clues as protagonist.

80,000 words is common length.