America Celebrates Its Birthday

The U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument, rear left, are illuminated as fireworks explode, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, in Washington. AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

Tight security was in place as the nation celebrated its birthday with Independence Day's traditional menu of observances: picnics, parades, fireworks, oohs and aahs, and salutes to American men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Washington, D.C., Park Police and 20 other law enforcement agencies kept a wary eye on the celebration, in the wake of the car bombs found last week in London and the attack Saturday on the airport in Glasgow, Scotland..

The National Mall area was flooded with officers and high-tech security devices, and police helicopters were on hand to monitor the crowds from above.

As with past July 4 festivities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the mall was fenced off and visitors were required to pass through security checkpoints - eliminate potentially dangerous bottlenecks.

Independence Day festivities in Washington included a parade on Constitution Avenue, a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the Capitol and a fireworks show.

With a record number of holiday travelers out and about, security everywhere is extra tight. For those traveling by air, that's going to mean allowing a little extra time, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes, both to deal with the extra crowds and to deal with the very visible extra security.

In New York City – site of the nation's largest fireworks display – it was a soggy but enthusiastic celebration, as an estimated three million people stood in heavy rain, admiring a show with 40,000 fireworks – about 1,300 shells per minute, shot from eight barges on waterways surrounding the city.

Crowds sporting umbrellas and ponchos stood along the river to see fireworks including the Jellyfish, which resembles the underwater creature, and the Electric Rice Krispies, crackling metallic shells. They cheered, applauded and laughed as the fireworks went off overhead.

"Awesome!" exclaimed Ben Fedak, a Queens musician taking in the show with his brother, before dazzling green shells exploded above him. "This is the best fireworks show that I've ever seen."

For the first time the annual Macy's show featured exploding shells aimed down, not up. The so-called Nautical Strobes and Mines exploded on the surface of the East River, remaining illuminated for a few seconds before fading out.

Grown men gasped at the fireworks that looked like hearts and smiley faces and flinched at the loud booms, which echoed off buildings.

One 7-year-old boy had to reassure his dad: "They're not scary at all," second-grader Daniel Hernandez said.

The program's music included an original piece by award-winning composer Stephen Flaherty, patriotic songs and the themes of the movies "Superman" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

Other musical performers appeared around the city as part of the nationally televised broadcast. They included Martina McBride, Joss Stone and "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks and contestants Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle.

In a less elegant but equally traditional Fourth of July event, in Coney Island, N.Y., Joey Chestnut won the annual hot dog eating contest, broke his own world record by inhaling 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes — one every 10.9 seconds. The gut-wrenching achievement dethroned the six-time champ, Takeru Kobayashi, in the process. Kobayashi could only manage to down 63 hot dogs and buns.

  • John Esterbrook

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