Abraham Zapruder’s footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination may be the most famous home movie in American history. It’s also the most chilling.
In this video, journalist Richard Stolley (who later became PEOPLE magazine’s founding editor) recounts how he tracked down Zapruder, an amateur film-buff, and purchased the 26-second clip for Life magazine.
“He expressed embarrassment the day we were negotiating that it was him, this middle-aged garment manufacturer who got the only filmed evidence of the assassination, and not one of those world-famous photographers back there on the press bus,” Stolley recalls of Zapruder, who used an eight-millimeter camera. “He never quite got over that.”
Despite having seen the film approximately 100 times, Stolley says its impact hasn’t diminished since the first time he watched it alongside two secret service agents in Zapruder’s office in November 1963.
“It was as if we had been simultaneously gut punched,” Stolley says of viewing the shocking frame in which the president’s head is hit with a bullet. “That moment, in all my years in journalism, was probably the most dramatic I’ve ever encountered.”
“Every reporter writes his own obituary,” says Stolley, and mine is going to say the Life reporter who obtained the infamous Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination.”
For more on the historic Zapruder film, visit Life.com.