Under gray skies, in a park about a block away from the former World Trade Center site, the city observed the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a ceremony marked by firsts and lasts.

It was the first time the event has been held on a Tuesday -- the same day as the 2001 attacks -- and the first time it rained.

It was also the first time the memorial was not held at Ground Zero, and very likely the last time relatives will be able to touch the ground where their loved ones died now that construction of new office towers is under way.

"I never went down to the pit before -- I couldn't," said Frances English of Brooklyn, whose nephew, Police Officer Paul Talty, died on Sept. 11. But she and her husband, John, a retired police officer, descended and laid flowers in a circular pool erected for the memorial Tuesday.

"This was our last chance."

As in previous years, family members brought pictures of their loved ones, or wore T-shirts or buttons with their likenesses, or their names and birthdays. Flags from each state hung along the eastern edge of the ramp down to the pit.

The circular pool, which contained two 6-foot-square frames meant to symbolize the two towers, quickly filled to overflowing with flowers. Some relatives wrote messages to their loved ones on the wooden sides of the pool, crossed themselves or knelt in silent prayer.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has presided over each of the anniversary events, told those gathered: "We come together again as New Yorkers and as Americans to share a loss that can't be measured."

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In all, an estimated 3,500 relatives and friends attended the ceremony at Zuccotti Park, compared to 4,700 people last year, when the ceremony was held at Ground Zero and families had greater access to the pit.

The change in venue remained a sore spot with some family members Tuesday, who objected to the city's position that construction at Ground Zero made it unsafe for the ceremony.

Instead, in a compromise with relatives, the city allowed family members to march down to a small area at the foot of a construction ramp on Liberty Street as the names of the dead were read by first responders at Zuccotti Park.

"It was very different at the park," said Imelda Williams, after she marched into the pit to remember her son, Glenroy Neblett, 42, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. "You didn't feel the same spirit. It should be right here, as it always has been."

Williams and her daughter, Leslianne, who both recently moved to Trinidad, have attended the ceremony every year.

"I lost my son here," she said, "not over there."

By the end of the day, city officials said that 3,773 family members of victims made their way down a ramp at Liberty Street to remember their lost loved ones.

The first family members descended into the pit at 8:47 a.m. -- after a first moment of silence to mark when the first plane struck the north tower -- and the last began to make their way down the ramp at 3:30 p.m.

Bob Schultz, the Port Authority site supervisor for the former trade center reconstruction project, was struck by the silence as families descended the ramp.

Unlike previous anniversaries, the signs of rebuilding are everywhere at Ground Zero. A large American flag hung from the newly laid foundation for the Freedom Tower. Three construction cranes stood idle near the memorial pool. On any other day, the pit would be humming with activity.

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"It's quiet," Schultz said, shaking his head. "It used to be like that all the time. But now, it's never quiet here. Except today."

Daniel Massey and staff writer Sophia Chang contributed to this report.