More Than a Birthday

Jon and Erika Leiken hold their newborn daughter Caleigh.
Jon and Erika Leiken hold their newborn daughter Caleigh.

On September 11, 2001, Jon Leiken was in his law office in Times Square when he received a phone call from his wife, Erika, who was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant. At the time, Erika was working as an attorney with the Legal Aid Society just a few blocks from the World Trade Center.

Minutes before calling Jon, she had exited the subway at Chambers Street to find flames and smoke pouring out of a massive hole near the top of the North Tower. After letting Jon know that she was safe in her office, she insisted that he leave work to return to their Upper West Side apartment. He agreed to do so, and shortly thereafter caught a taxi home while Erika began her evacuation out of lower Manhattan.

On his ride home, Jon heard about the collapse of the towers but did not take it for fact until he turned on the television. He watched in horror as a cloud of dust and debris engulfed the buildings surrounding the World Trade Center. Immediately he feared for the fate of his wife and unborn child.

Thankfully Erika was safe. After making her way uptown with her coworkers in a pair of sneakers lent to her by a fellow attorney, Erika was reunited with Jon four hours later. Their time spent at home that afternoon, however, would be brief; after realizing she could no longer feel her baby moving, Erika and Jon rushed to hail a cab to a hospital. Soon, they were being driven by police escort to Mount Sinai Hospital, where about an hour later, Erika gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The Leikens named her Caleigh.

Jon and Erika Leiken pose for a photo with their baby daughter Caleigh.
Jon and Erika Leiken with their baby daughter Caleigh.

Nearly 18 years later, Caleigh would travel from her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to New York City to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum with her father. Before her visit to the Museum, Caleigh mentioned how she never really thought of 9/11 as anything but her birthday. Her thoughts and feelings soon changed after visiting the Museum and seeing her birthdate written in huge numbers and letters on the wall. 

“It was at that moment, and throughout the rest of my two-hour visit, that I understood how much work, energy and love is devoted to telling the story of loss and bravery on 9/11,” she wrote in a blog post for the Museum in September 2019. “I realized then how important it is to honor the victims and tell their stories.”

Wanting others to appreciate and share in the mission of the Museum, in 2019 Caleigh helped to organize a school-wide viewing of the Museum’s annual Anniversary in the Schools webinar, a commemorative program that brings thousands of students from across the globe together to remember the 9/11 attacks.

Caleigh will again play a part in commemorating these attacks as she joins her father and four other individuals as they share their stories for this year’s fifth annual Anniversary in the Schools webinar. Register for this free program here.

The webinar is made possible thanks to generous support from The New York Life Foundation.

By Meredith Ketchmark, Assistant Manager of Youth & Family Programs

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