Each year, people gather at the World Trade Center Memorial Gardens to pay tribute to Middletown residents who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In recent years, ceremonies have included speeches and visits from dignitaries. But this year's 11th anniversary event was notable for its silence.
"This year," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Massell, "I think less is more."
Thirty-seven people with ties to Middletown died in the attacks. At 8:46 a.m. Tuesday, Massell and other town officials placed a wreath of red and white flowers at the entrance to the park. A blue ribbon reading "Middletown Remembers 9/11/01" was draped across.
Dozens of people silently walked a brick path lined with 37 plaques, many surrounded by flowers and other personal items. A clam shell reading "Go Knicks" lay atop one, a painted sign saying, "Uncle Steve, we miss you," rested on another.
Cindy Metz stood next to the memorial for her brother Kenneth Tietjen, a Port Authority Police Officer who died in the attacks. She wore a sweatshirt reading "Heroes live forever" on the back.
"The residents of Middletown still feel it. They still have respect for it," Metz said. "They truly don't ever forget."
The remembrance stands in contrast to last year's 10th anniversary event, when 3,700 people attended a large ceremony. This year the town wanted to focus only on the families, and felt a silent tribute would be an appropriate way to do so.
At least two other communities in New Jersey, which lost about 700 residents in the attacks, also changed the way they remember this year.
Katya Wowk, communications director for Montclair, said the mayor felt the anniversary should shift from a day focused only on a ceremony to one where residents engaged in service or marked the occasion with "random acts of kindness."
"It was a matter of moving in another direction really, in terms of looking at marking the day in a way that would be meaningful and significant to everyone in terms of a service-oriented commemoration," Wowk said. The town lost nine residents in the attacks.
For the first time in 10 years, Glen Rock did not hold an organized commemoration of the attacks.
The Glen Rock Assistance Council and Endowment, a community group set up to help families of the town's 11 victims build a memorial and organize remembrances, decided after months of community meetings that it was time to end the public events in favor of letting people remember on their own.
"It was a difficult decision," said Brad Jordan, the group's chairman. "We felt this year it was more appropriate for a more personal and private observance. "We felt we couldn't replicate what we did on the 10th anniversary."
In Middletown, people lingered in the park after the ceremony, catching up and greeting one another with hugs. Many commented on the similarities to the day 11 years ago: a Tuesday morning under a cloudless blue sky, a bright sun, air crisp with the promise of fall.
Massell said Middletown will "never not do something" for Sept. 11, but will commemorate each passing year in different ways.
"We can't have a huge event every year because it takes away from it," Massell said.