Never before seen film chronicles Kennedy visit to Albuquerque

Posted at: 11/18/2013 10:36 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Reporter’s Notebook:

As you might expect, I’m a fan of video cameras.  My iPhone is loaded with videos of the most random things- my dog doing tricks, co-workers being silly, family celebrations.  We record because we want to hold on to the emotions that those moving images bring us. 

I was born two decades after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but because somebody else thought to record the moment JFK visited Albuquerque in 1962, I got to experience that moment.  My photographer David Thompson and I visited Paul Martinez at his home in Northeast Albuquerque.  Our assignment was to watch some old video he had of President Kennedy in New Mexico and interview him after.  As Mr. Martinez threaded an old projector with the film and set up the screen to watch it on, I was taken back to a simpler time before iPhones, digital photos, and High Definition Television.  The two minute silent film starts off showing Kennedy’s motorcade on Route 66 (present day Tramway and Central).  I saw an Albuquerque I had never seen before, a desolate city where the desert was still winning the war against the emerging housing boom.  The presidential motorcade took old Route-66 to Kirtland Air Force Base because I-40 was still under construction. 

The silent film shows President Kennedy coming out of a church on base.  With the charisma and charm I’ve seen in so many other film clips, Kennedy is caught shaking hands and greeting with adoring fans before entering into his presidential limousine.  He sits in the backseat and since the roof is made of glass, you can still see him as the secret service drives him away.

The short clips cuts to the old Albuquerque airport, where President Kennedy boards Air Force One.  The cars, motorcycles, clothing styles, and hairdos of the early 1960s are things I’ve never seen in my lifetime.

Mr. Martinez started filming in the late 1950s to document moments with his new family.  On December 7, 1962, he wanted to see an American president in real life and capture the moment on his home video camera. 

“I worked at Sandia Labs,” Martinez told me.  “(The president) went to the lab where cameras were not allowed.  So the next day, sure enough someone at work had the schedule what he was going to do and it said he was going to leave the hotel at such and such a time.”

Mr. Martinez just wanted to add something fun to his home video collection.  He had no way of knowing that 11 months later, on another trip to the Southwest, that an assassin would shoot and kill President Kennedy in Dallas, TX.  All of the sudden, that fun home video turned into a valuable piece of New Mexico history that could never be replicated.  President Kennedy would never return to Albuquerque.    

Because Mr. Martinez enjoys videography he held on to it, storing it in a closet in his home for more than 50 years.  When he shared it with me, I felt a connection to a president who I’ll never meet and a link to part of my city’s past that I’ve never seen on my own. 

Suddenly those random videos in my iPhone hold so much more meaning.  There’s no way of knowing if the people I captured on video will always be around for me to enjoy.  But I will always have that moment on video.