Monday, June 4, 2012

Levine and his Flying Machine (June 4, 1927)

On June 4, 1927, Charles Levine and his pilot Chamberlain flew a small plane (above) across the Atlantic. They weren't the first -- that was Lindbergh, of course, a few weeks earlier. They were still briefly a sensation, and Levine was celebrated as a "Hebrew Ace." From the Yiddish Radio Project:
"In the weeks following Levine's triumph, the Jewish-American community was in a state of rapture as across the sea one of its own was received by European dignitaries from Hindenburg to Mussolini. On Manhattan's Lower East Side, the Jews spoke of little else. 
"'The anti-Semites in Germany and the anti-Semites around the world will have to take their hats off to Levine the Jew,' pronounced the New York Yiddish daily newspaper Der Tog. 'No longer will we be obliged to prove that Jews are as capable and strong on the field of physical bravery as on the field of intellectual achievements.' 
"Within a month a half-dozen songs had been written in Levine's honor. The transatlantic flyer was seen as heralding the advent of the modern Jewish hero: independent, courageous, and proud."
I first heard one of the songs on a Klezmer disk by Kapelye, but you can hear a contemporary recording: "Levine mit Zayn Flayin Mashin" by Charles Cohen, sung in a combination of Yiddish and English, and also read the lyrics and a translation of the Yiddish portion.

Levine came to a very bad end -- when he flew, he was very rich, and paid all the expenses of the exotic and unusual voyage. Soon after he not only lost his money but involved himself in dubious schemes, even spending time in near-homelessness and even in jail.

No comments:

Post a Comment