Correction to This Article
A Sept. 11 Style article about a reunion of people who were in the New York Marriott World Trade Center hotel on Sept. 11, 2001, was incorrectly illustrated with a photograph of a different Lower Manhattan hotel, the New York Marriott Financial Center Downtown.

At a Ground Zero Hotel, Room for Miracles

Jean Cleere (who lost her husband in the Marriott on 9/11) hugs Dennis Wooldridge, who was also a guest at the hotel that day.
Jean Cleere (who lost her husband in the Marriott on 9/11) hugs Dennis Wooldridge, who was also a guest at the hotel that day. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

NEW YORK, Sept. 10 Nearly everyone watching TV on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, saw something they considered unimaginably horrifying. But not Frank Razzano. He watched the twin towers burning and recalled a story he'd read years earlier, about a B-25 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in the mid-1940s. People died but the structure wasn't severely damaged and firefighters put out the blaze.

It's the Empire State fiasco, all over again, Razzano thought, as he watched. Tragic, appalling -- but hardly a threat to his life.

That proved a colossal misjudgment, of course, and it was catastrophic for no one more than Frank Razzano. At the time, he was standing in his underwear in a room on the 19th floor of the Marriott World Trade Center, a doomed 23-story hotel nestled right between the World Trade Center's towers.

All around him, thousands were fleeing, and others were dead or minutes from dying under an epic pile of debris. In a matter of minutes, the South Tower would collapse, much of it directly on top of the Marriott, cleaving the hotel in half.

Amid this chaos, Razzano -- who is a partner at the Washington law firm of Dickstein Shapiro and, for what it's worth, a totally sane-seeming man -- turned off the TV and made what he later called the single worst decision of his life: He decided to take a shower.

He also shaved. Then he dressed and methodically started to pack up his clothes and legal papers.

"They were saying it was terrorism, so I thought, you know, they'll probably declare this a crime scene, and if I leave this hotel without my stuff I won't be able to get back in here for a month," recalls Razzano, 58. "I thought, I wonder if I should call a bellhop."

Wait. There was a Marriott at Ground Zero? There was, and its fate -- and the fate of Razzano and some 900 other guests staying at the hotel five years ago today -- are among the lesser-known tales of the attacks.

Sunday, a group of some 50 Marriott survivors, as many call themselves, gathered for the first time, over lunch at a banquet room in Giovanni's Atrium, an Italian restaurant a few blocks from where the hotel once stood, to talk, bond, weep, laugh and relive the worst day of their lives.

Some had come to claim their place and the place of the Marriott in the narrative of 9/11. Others just wanted to connect with people who had walked the same path out of hell. After the attacks, all of them immediately returned to their home towns and passed up the chance to commune, face to face, with others who'd survived a nearly identical ordeal.

"It's hard to explain," says Joyce Ng, a project manager for a software company and the woman who organized the event, "but I've met with survivors from the twin towers and they have a different story. There's something about talking to people who were in the same building."

Eleven guests of the Marriott died Sept. 11, says Dennis Wooldridge, a survivor who is writing a book about the hotel. Two employees were killed, too, as were dozens of firefighters. Several fire companies used the Marriott's lobby as a staging ground. The survivors came Sunday with stories of lucky breaks and unshakable memories. Some can still hear the bump-bump-bump of bodies hitting the top of the hotel as people leapt from the towers. The fates that day seemed to treat many in the Marriott cruelly at first -- landing them in the midst of one of the greatest crimes in history -- and then, with astounding mercy, sparing their lives.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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