Inside the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel on September 11

Several men in military and law enforcement garbs stand beside the smouldering remains of the Marriott World Trade Center hotel on a night shortly after the attacks. The hotel is covered in twisted debris from the Twin Towers.
Digital photograph taken by Anthony Conti at Ground Zero depicting the remains of the 3 WTC building, Marriott Hotel. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Anthony Conti

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Washington D.C.–based lawyer Frank Razzano was in his room at the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, situated between the Twin Towers. Razzano was awoken by the sound of Flight 11 striking the North Tower. Seeing fluttering papers, but not realizing the scale of the emergency, he decided to take a shower and continue getting ready for his busy day. 

Razzano had collected his belongings and was preparing to leave his room when he saw “a curtain of concrete and steel” falling toward his window as the South Tower collapsed. He ran to the opposite side of his room as the debris rained down overtop the hotel.

At the same time that Razzano was showering and collecting his belongings, firefighter Jeff Johnson was dispatched with FDNY Engine Co. 74. to the World Trade Center with instructions to search for and evacuate civilians in the Marriott Hotel. Johnson and his company were searching two floors above Razzano when the South Tower collapsed.

As Razzano moved into the destroyed hotel hallway and called out, in search of other survivors, he was answered by Jeff Johnson. Johnson instructed him to follow the sound of his voice, and to go down the stairs.

However, Razzano and others with him found that the stairwell on the third floor was impassable. Eventually, Johnson was able to find a hole in the wall through which the group passed, ending up in a reception room.

Moments later, the North Tower began to collapse. In an oral history recorded by the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Razzano describes the building’s collapse as “a freight train coming at me out of the sky.” Despite the millions of pounds of debris that came down around them, Razzano, Johnson and the others survived in a corner of the hotel that was still intact. Johnson found another opening, and the group was finally able to escape the Marriott.

After 9/11, Razzano was unsure if Johnson, who left the group to continue his rescue work, had survived. However, a year after 9/11, Razzano recognized Johnson’s photograph in a local newspaper and contacted him.

When Razzano’s daughter got married in 2003, Johnson was invited. At the rehearsal dinner, Razzano instantly recognized Johnson as the firefighter who had led him to safety on 9/11—the firefighter that made it possible for him to attend his daughter’s wedding.

On Sept. 11, 2019, Frank and Jeff, along with three others, will share their story as a part of this year’s fourth 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 Lindsey Cline, Education Specialist, and Molly DePippo, Education Specialist, 9/11 Memorial Museum

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