Online Collection
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Elsie Dorman Film

Object Number: 1995.020.0001
Category: Films
Photographer: Elsie Dorman
Type of Object: Film, 8mm
Dimensions: Gauge: 8mm; Camera Speed: 16 fps
Medium: Film
Description
8mm color home movie taken by Elsie Dorman on November 22, 1963. This is the only known imagery of the presidential motorcade taken from the Texas School Book Depository building.

This edited reel begins with Elsie Dorman stepping off a bus near her home in suburban Oak Cliff. Next is the Kennedy motorcade entering Dealey Plaza as seen from Dorman's office on the fourth floor of the Depository. Dorman filmed short sequences with her husband's camera that show the limousine approaching the Depository and turning onto Elm Street.

Because Dorman had little experience with the camera, she held it next to her face rather than looking through the view-finder. The result was that the camera didn't point directly at the Kennedys, so most of her film shows just the crowd before, during and immediately after the shots were fired. Later that weekend, at the Dorman home, her husband filmed some of the Kennedy funeral scenes on their TV screen and then finished the reel by filming the neighborhood outside their house.

The video attached to this record is an excerpt. The entire film is available in our Reading Room to on-site researchers or by submitting a Rights & Reproductions Request Form.
Curator's Notes

Elsie Dorman's son, James H. Dorman, recorded an oral history about his late mother and her film on November 18, 2002. - Stephen Fagin, Curator

The camera-original Elsie Dorman film remains intact, though it has been subjected to rough handling over the years.  Upon review after receiving it from her son Jim Dorman in 1995, I found tape splices holding some torn frames together. 

Scenes of a building exterior and an outdoor pool party precede what appears on this website.  Jim Dorman had no knowledge of those images, nor did he recognize anyone appearing in them.  Other than assuming the scenes were filmed in the summertime, no other information is available.

Elsie Dorman's film is perhaps the most unusual of all the pictures taken in Dealey Plaza.  The camera belonged to her husband, John, who was working in Fort Worth that day and was unable to attend the motorcade.  Instead, he asked his wife, Elsie, to film the president for him from her fourth floor Depository office overlooking the parade route.  Her vantage point was about 30 feet below and to the west of the window from where Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired the shots that killed President Kennedy.

Elsie had never used the camera before, she told me not long before her death in 1983, and she was annoyed that when looking through the viewfinder she couldn’t see very clearly.  Instead, she decided to hold the camera to the side of her face thinking the camera would capture exactly what she was looking at.  She was mistaken, for the camera view bounces all over the Plaza showing very little of the Kennedy limousine; and the film ends moments after the shooting began.  Weeks later, when FBI agents questioned all the employees in the Depository building, Elsie told them she had been taking pictures but, incredibly, the agents did not ask to see her film.  

LIFE magazine learned of the film three years later and reproduced some frames from it in a November 1967 issue.  In the late 70s, investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations inspected the film but found little of interest other than the appearance of a police motorcycle officer thought to have been linked to a possible sound recording of the assassination.

Elsie’s surviving sons donated her original film to the Museum in 1995.  Upon transfer to video, I noticed two bystanders with cameras near the corner of Elm and Houston whose pictures remain unknown.  The Elsie Dorman film may perhaps yield other new information someday. - Gary Mack, Curator

All requests for permission to reproduce, publish or broadcast materials in this collection must be submitted to the Museum's registrar, using the Rights & Reproductions Request Form. Inquiries may be sent to registrar@jfk.org.