This Polaroid photo was taken a sixth of a second after a rifle bullet ended John F. Kennedy’s life. Apart from Abraham Zapruder’s movie, it’s the best photographic evidence from the scene in Dealey Plaza.

11/22/63, just after 12:30 p.m. (Click to enlarge.)

On November 22, 1963, Mary Moorman was standing at the edge of the grassy knoll, near the curb, with her friend Jean Hill. They can be seen in the Zapruder film (Jean is in a red coat, which stands out against the green grass). Mary is holding her Polaroid camera, Model 80A. Those cameras used rollfilm, which you couldn’t shoot in series quickly: You had to wait for each print to process before pulling the next tab, and that took ten seconds or so. Moorman thus had one chance to catch the presidential limousine as it passed, and she did not miss her moment.

There’s another copy of this image on Wikipedia, and it looks different. A few minutes spent visiting Kennedy-assassination Websites (and let me tell you, that’s an eye-opening few minutes) tell me that it’s probably from a copy made by a policeman that was eventually copied again, cropped, and sent out via the Associated Press. The original is sharper, though a big fingerprint has degraded the image. The print may have been imperfectly coated when new, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The people on the scene may have been a little distracted.

Moorman has said that she shot another photo a little earlier, showing the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, and thus the assassin himself (or not, depending on your beliefs). She says she gave it to a law-enforcement officer at the scene, and that it subsequently disappeared.

Moorman still lives in Dallas, and reportedly still has her original print, despite a report (on Wikipedia and elsewhere) that she sold it in 2008 for $175,000.



2 Responses to Instant Moment: Dallas, 1963

  1. [...] She snapped a photo approximately one-sixth of a second after a bullet struck the president. You can see Jacqueline Kennedy in her Chanel suit and pillbox hat, turning towards the president, who seems to be slumping. Other than that, it’s not clear what’s going on. The general murkiness may help explain why the photo is beloved by conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that it shows a second gunman who’s been nicknamed “badge man.” [...]

  2. [...] written before about Mary Moorman’s Polaroid picture of the Kennedy assassination, and today Time’s Harry McCracken—a man who, judging by this post from a couple of years [...]

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