Sonia King was just 10-years-old when her father, a Dallas jewelry wholesaler, photographed the sun-splashed, cheerful scene in Dealey Plaza mere minutes before President John Kennedy was assassinated. After sitting in storage for more than 45 years, her father’s pictures now appear in TIME and on LightBox, seeing the light of day for the first time in five decades. King recently shared the story behind the previously unpublished photos that mark the end of Camelot:
My father, H. Warner King, was an amateur photographer in New Zealand during the Second World War. He frequently shot with his trusty Leica and multiple lenses on Kodachrome slide film. He was always interested in photography and was very organized in how he archived his pictures.
My entire family was enamored of the Kennedys. Although my father’s job required him to travel constantly, my dad arranged to be in town the day he heard Kennedy was coming to Dallas because he wanted to take pictures. He knew Dallas really well, and he knew where to go to get close to the motorcade. Because he was a manufacturer’s rep, he had a showroom at the Dallas Trade Mart, where Kennedy was scheduled to speak.
He had it all figured out: he would take pictures of the Kennedys as they drove near Turtle Creek (pictured above) and then take the back streets to the Trade Mart to photograph the president and First Lady. The cars passed him and he photographed John and Jackie. In one photo, they’re smiling right at him.
But when he got near the Trade Mart, all he photographed was the motorcade racing to Parkland Hospital. He never really showed those photos to anybody, and I think he may have deliberately destroyed them — my father’s carefully numbered slides were missing the sequence immediately after the photos you see above.
We were all devastated by what happened, and the assassination was at the forefront of my father’s mind for a long time. He retired at age 53 and moved back to New Zealand in 1975. He shipped all his slides with him, the Kodachromes riding across the Pacific Ocean on a large container ship. In 2005, my father passed away. As we were going through his possessions, I didn’t want all his old slides at first, because I worried it might be some giant burden and I’d never look at them again. But I took them, anyway.
Recently, I began to sort through them, and came across a long, red box labeled “November/December 1963 Kennedy.” I found these pictures right away. The images have never been published, but my dad would be happy to see them in TIME Magazine, his favorite news publication. Now, fifty years later, his photographs of the Kennedys finally see the light of day.
As told to Vaughn Wallace.
Sonia King is a mosaic artist based in Dallas. See more of her work at MosaicWorks.com.