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.



3 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 […]

  3. Gramaw says:

    The fingerprint on the above posted copy of the Moorman photo happened during one of the 2 (or 3?) times that the FBI had custody of the original. When the FBI returned it to Ms. Moorman, the fingerprint was there. It was NOT there BEFORE the FBI took custody of it. This is according to Ms. Moorman herself, as stated during the first full public interview of her (which you can watch on She states that she would like to know which FBI agent screwed up her picture so that she can know who to be angry with. But my question is: HOW did the fingerprint get there, and WHY? The FBI did not provide Moorman with an explanation. This was all after the “badge man” issue was raised, when the FBI took custody of the photo for the 2nd or 3rd time, returning it with the fingerprint. The first time the polaroid was printed in the newspaper was an hour or so after the photo was actually taken. This is why you’ll see some pretty clear copies of the pic as compared to later pics that are less clear. (Per Moorman’s statements).

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