Shel Hershorn dies at 82; photojournalist chronicled ‘60s tumult


Shel Hershorn, a photojournalist who documented the tumult of the 1960s and then dropped out to live a rustic lifestyle in northern New Mexico, died Sept. 17 at a nursing home in Espanola, N.M. He was 82.

Born in Denver on June 11, 1929, Herbert Sheldon Hershorn learned photography in the Navy, then became a staff photographer for a newspaper in Casper, Wyo.

He went to Dallas in 1954 to work for United Press International, then began to freelance for Life, Sports Illustrated, Time, Fortune and other magazines via the Black Star photography agency.


Hershorn covered the civil rights movement in the Deep South, capturing the iconic image of Alabama Gov. George Wallace standing in the doorway of a building at the University of Alabama in an unsuccessful effort to stop the first black students from enrolling.

He rode the campaign trail with John F. Kennedy and photographed Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was loaded into an ambulance after being fatally shot by Jack Ruby.

In August 1966, Hershorn was in Austin, Texas, when Charles Whitman began shooting from the University of Texas tower, killing 16 people on the ground. In the aftermath, Hershorn noticed a bullet hole in the window of a jewelry store, went inside and photographed the tower through the hole. The photograph ended up on the cover of Life.

But his widow, Sonja Hershorn, said he had lost his taste for journalism after Kennedy’s assassination.

“It broke his heart and he just soured on the world,” she said. “He just wanted to be a hippie. He just wanted to be totally out of American life. He had lost all faith.”

In early 1971, he bought a red step van, a trailer and a pony, and he left Dallas heading west, stopping at malls and shopping centers to photograph children sitting on the pony.


He wound up in Taos, N.M., where he found work as a plumber’s assistant before learning to make furniture. In Taos he also met Sonja, who was a teacher at an elementary school.

Sonja Hershorn said her husband had recently fallen and broken his hip; he died from pneumonia and the effects of alcoholic dementia.

Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.

Hershorn’s photographic collection has been donated to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Sharpe writes for the Santa Fe New Mexican and McClatchy Newspapers.