The Towners, Eyewitness Photographers at the JFK Assassination (Part 4)

On this, the 53rd anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, I post my last (for now) excerpt from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination.

My film has been closely scrutinized over the years, mostly by researchers. Authorities had the original film for a good while on two different occasions. The first time was in 1963 immediately after the assassination when Daddy turned the original undeveloped film over to The Dallas Morning News. Another time was in 1977-78 when I turned over the original film and slides to investigators for the temporary use by the Select Committee on Assassinations. LIFE magazine also had the Towner images in 1967 for an article they published in November that year.

There are a few frames missing from my motorcade footage as the presidential limousine passes in front of the Texas School Book Depository. No one knows for sure who removed those frames or why, but I do know it happened before March 1977 when I took the film to Ft. Worth to be studied by Jack White and he brought the splice to my attention. I suspect it happened while in the hands of the Dallas Morning News and/or authorities in 1963, because the film was developed by them, and the noticeable jump in the film at that point has been there since the beginning as far as I can remember. A few theories about who made this mysterious splice  and why wiggle around in cyberspace, but they are only theories. I read somewhere that at least one researcher believes I did it myself when I stopped filming and started again, but I know for certain that is not true. I did not pause filming.

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

The drive home [from Dealey Plaza] was long and silent, except for the news broadcasting on the car radio. All the way, we listened to unconfirmed reports that the president was dead. As soon as we walked in the house, we turned on the radio and listened while Mother made sandwiches for lunch. We soon heard the official report that President Kennedy was dead. All I could do was nibble on the sandwich set before me. Then my parents asked me if I wanted to return to school, which was the original plan. I had not considered not going back to school, so without giving it much thought, I decided to go back, and my parents let me. I probably shouldn’t have.

Back at school, I became confused. I checked in with the attendance office and went to class. Of course, no classes were actually in session. Dumbfounded students and teachers sat at their desks listening to the horrible news over the loud speakers in the classrooms. My friends knew I had gone to see the presidential motorcade, but no one knew I had been at the actual assassination site. The questions began. When I told them where I had been standing, looks of disbelief showed on their faces. It was hard for it to register with anyone that I…was a witness. More importantly, it had not registered with me either – until I began talking about it with the other students and noticed their reactions. My classmates didn’t dwell on it with me, and the teacher just looked at me helplessly. Someone asked why I had returned to school. I had no idea. Neither the kids nor the teachers knew what to say to me. I was totally lost and numb, but I made it through the rest of the day somehow….

On the day of the assassination, the local television and radio news broadcasts immediately began directing anyone who had taken any pictures at the assassination site to turn the negatives over to (I believe) The Dallas Morning News. Maybe The Dallas Morning News was not the only one asking this, but that is where Daddy dutifully hand delivered his undeveloped film. He submitted the undeveloped roll of film from his Yashica and the undeveloped reel of film from the movie camera, as requested…by the authorities. I did not go with him. He said he received a receipt for them, but I never saw it. Hindsight told Daddy and me that readily turning our pictures over to anyone was not a wise decision….A short time [after submitting the images to the authorities], Daddy began to worry that he might never see our film and negatives again, but we did. He said the authorities had possession of our film for several weeks. I cannot verify that, but I suspect he waited much longer than he should have waited for the materials to be returned to him….

There is no record of when the film and photos were finally returned to us by authorities. We loaded the film into the projector and anxiously watched the whole reel of home movies from the beginning, as we waited for the presidential motorcade segment to begin at the end of the reel. We were shocked when the film ran out and began slapping the projector at the end of the family home movies. We thought the JFK portion was gone forever, but it wasn’t. It was still there but detached at the end of the reel. Daddy spliced it back onto the rest of the film, and we watched it in agony. This was the very first time we saw what we had captured on film. Imagine today having to wait weeks (probably  months in this case) to view your video for the first time.

In my oral history at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2008 Tina Towner 2008 oral history, Stephen Fagin, who is now the curator of the museum, asked me if I ever get tired of talking about the JFK assassination. The answer is no, because I don’t actually talk about it very much. Sometimes years have gone by without anyone asking me about it. It is interesting that many people I have talked to over the years seem to believe I am not as affected by or as deeply involved in the event as they think I should be. However, I suspect that most of the eyewitnesses and eyewitness photographers that day feel the same way about it as I do.

[My book is available at The Towner Collection of film, photos, and cameras can be viewed on-line at Towner Collection at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.]