Howard Levan: Daredevil of the Skies
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1894, Howard Levan grew up in a quiet household. His father worked for the local theater and his mother served as a laundress for nearby families. At the age of 16, Howard took a job in a hotel as an elevator operator.
Little wonder that young Levan soon left Allentown for more exciting prospects. Late in 1910, he found himself in Toledo, Ohio, selling postcards for oil magnate and local entertainment promoter Charles Strobel. Strobel owned the Toledo Mud Hens, sponsored boxing bouts, and experimented with early biplanes. It wasn’t postcards that attracted Levan, but the excitement of being around those first aviators that Strobel employed at his Strobel Airship Co.
Before long he was helping in the construction of biplanes and then learned to fly. Fellow aviators thought he was a natural. There was no doubt he was a bold and adventurous young man. Strobel soon sent him aloft in his Curtiss Jenny. Touted by Strobel as the youngest aviator in the world, Levan barnstormed at the age of 17. He flew at county fairs, festivals, and air shows throughout the country and in Hawaii and Cuba. The accompanying photo was taken at the Sandusky County Fairgrounds by professional photographer Leroy Fachman, who had studios in Port Clinton and Elmore, Ohio.
Levan became something of a local hero when he returned to Allentown and thrilled spectators by flying 30 miles in 25 minutes against formidable wind currents! But in July 1911, Levan suffered serious injuries when his “Red Devil” crashed at an exhibition in Pittsburgh. In 1912, Levan, after several more dangerous crashes, parted ways with Strobel. He planned to retire, but the “flying fever” soon hit again.
Levan noted that he and other aviators were often upstaged by balloonists, who parachuted from dirigibles. He soon signed on with E. R. Hutchinson Aerial Company who made his own balloons. He provided ascensions and parachute drops for fairs and amusement parks. But on Levan’s first jump at Lawrence, Massachusetts before thousands of people, his chute failed to open. From a height of 1200 feet, he plummeted to earth. Finally, as he reached 200 feet, Levan’s parachute opened! His life was spared.
He eventually settled down in Dayton, Ohio, where he married and had a daughter. He owned an amusement park and worked as a concessionaire. Marrying a second time, Levan moved to Georgia where,despite his many close calls with death, he lived out a long life.