SIOUX CITY | Trent Bailey felt the emotional tug as he headed into Sioux City Monday evening, making his way from Colorado. The weather reflected his nerves, via storm clouds, lightning, swirling winds.
And then Bailey checked into his motel. Room 232.
"If there was any indication I knew I was in the right place, that was it," said Bailey, an artist/photographer determined one day to create an exhibition of the images, past and present, featuring United Flight 232, the crash that not only marks this community, but marks the Bailey family as well.
Trent Bailey, age 30, was 3 years old when United Flight 232 crashed at Sioux Gateway Airport on July 19, 1989. Bailey and his father, Brownell Bailey, had flown to the East Coast one day earlier.
Trent's mother, Frances Lockwood Bailey, was aboard Flight 232 that fateful day, along with Trent's brothers, his twin Spencer Bailey, age 3, and brother Brandon Bailey, 6. Frances died in the crash. Spencer and Brandon suffered injuries, but survived. Spencer was remembered by tens to hundreds of thousands of people as the child carried from the wreckage, cradled and rushed to safety by Lt. Col. Dennis Nielsen of the 185th Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard.
"My dad left me with other family members and came to Sioux City to try to recover our family," Trent said.
As his father headed west on July 20, 1989, he stopped to purchase a copy of the New York Times. Brownell Bailey read an account of the crash and discovered the main photograph, the image by Gary Anderson of the Sioux City Journal, an image that showed little Spencer Bailey being carried from the scene at Sioux Gateway Airport.
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"That was the first sign for my father that one of the people in our family might be alive," Trent Bailey said. "That image had an incredible impact on our family."
Trent Bailey's trip this summer is one of discovery, a hope he finds photos and other media accounts that broaden his exploration of Flight 232 and what Sioux City has become in the decades that followed. Bailey envisions creating an exhibition by 2019, the 30th anniversary of the crash, one in which 112 died, while 184 miraculously survived.
"When I think of Flight 232, I look back on that day as both tragedy and a miracle," Bailey said as he looked through negatives and newspaper clippings. "In response, I would like to intuitively navigate my memory of the event by using found photographs, ephemera, newspaper clippings, and video news footage as source material for making prints.
"Additionally, I will be making trips to present-day Sioux City photographing the region's topography and the Iowans I come in contact with."
Ultimately, this artist/photographer hopes to merge past with present, moving himself and viewers to a place entirely new and unanticipated. Trent Bailey has visited Sioux City on three occasions until now. His fourth trip is his first as an adult, a trip his brothers say is logical for the artist.
"I'm not sure exactly what the end story will be and how it will be framed," he said.
He said his work will definitely be heartfelt. The storm front on his arrival Monday night and his checking in to Room 232 drove that home immediately.