The short clip, shot on 8mm film by a 15-year-old student, provides a rare, high-quality color close-up of John and Jackie Kennedy as they arrived in Dallas. The Sixth Floor Museum put the film on display for public viewing on Presidents Day.
Kennedy was killed Nov. 22, 1963, as his motorcade made its way through downtown Dallas. The footage shot earlier that day by William Ward Warren mainly shows Air Force One and Air Force Two arriving, and briefly features the Kennedys making their way through the crowd at the airport.
"Viewing this footage makes you feel as though you're standing next to Warren as he's filming it on that very day," museum curator Gary Mack said Monday. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles Kennedy's life and death and is located in the old book depository building from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired at the president's motorcade.
Warren, now the 61-year-old owner of a freight brokerage business, was at the airport because Dallas students were given the day off for Kennedy's visit. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that when he realized he'd be close enough to Kennedy to shake his hand, he made the quick decision to film the president instead. He got his footage, and ended up shaking Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson's hand.
He said he transferred the footage to a VCR tape about 15 years ago but largely forgot about it, keeping it hidden on top of his grandfather clock.
"Only recently did I feel like things like this just seem to disappear so I called the museum to see if they had any interest in it," Warren said.
The final few seconds of the three-minute film show JFK passing through the crowd, smiling at cameras. Jacqueline Kennedy follows, carrying a bouquet of red roses given to her by local officials. She's walking alongside Johnson. A smiling Lady Bird Johnson appears briefly. She's followed by Gov. John Connally, who was wounded in the shooting later in the day.
The clip offers interesting historical perspective, showing the suits and dresses of the day and the old-style TV cameras. It briefly cuts to a shot of students flying a Texas flag and a Confederate flag.
The event was captured by local black-and-white TV cameras. There were numerous other cameras at Dallas' Love Field that day, but most of that footage hasn't been released to the public, Mack said.
Warren, of Dallas, said that when he heard later that day of the president's assassination, he was "floored."
"I say it's like getting the wind knocked out of you when you're playing soccer. You just don't know how to react," he said.