WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans from across the country gathered by the thousands under tight security Monday at the National Mall for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, taking part in a holiday celebration that also included a parade and other events citywide.
Throngs picnicked on blankets, played volleyball and set up lounge chairs for the 17-minute fireworks show starting at 9:17 p.m., which marked the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Other events took place earlier in the day, including a recitation of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives and a parade down Constitution Avenue. Parents balanced young children on their shoulders, vendors sold American flags and other red, white and blue paraphernalia and thousands of spectators lined the streets to see the procession of colorful marching bands, military-related floats and enormous inflatable marionettes of Fred Flintsone, Curious George, Uncle Sam and other characters.
'No better place to celebrate than the nation's capital'
Among the spectators was Thomas Zani, 37, a legal aid attorney from Steubenville, Ohio, who was with his wife visiting his niece. They planned to attend the fireworks Monday night.
"We wanted to see a grand-scale Fourth of July celebration," he said. "There can't be a better place in America to do that than the nation's capital."
The U.S. Park Service has warned of heightened security around the Mall during the fireworks show.
Louie and Diana Marin of New York City were visiting Washington, where they attended a pro baseball game, went past the White House and visited the Smithsonian museums before seeing their first fireworks on the Mall.
"For years, back home in New York, we've been watching it on TV. We decided we wanted the experience" live, Louie Marin said.
Though this was the first July 4 since the killing by Navy SEALs of Osama bin Laden, the pair said they were not fazed by the security on the Mall.
"We really didn't pay attention to that," he said. "We're a family that's experienced 9/11."
The holiday is celebrated as the nation's birthday, but it also was Malia Obama's 13th birthday. The president's eldest daughter had to share her parents with hundreds of others as Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama invited troops and their families to attend a special barbecue and USO concert on the South Lawn.
At the mountaintop home to Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Va., officials continued a nearly five-decade-old tradition of swearing in new U.S. citizens. Seventy-seven people took their oaths during a naturalization ceremony at Monticello.
On New York's Coney Island, the annual Nathan's Famous July Fourth hot dog-eating contest brought out the biggest names in competitive eating for a clash that was short in timespan but high in calories.
A local woman, Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, chowed her way to victory in the first-ever women-only contest, eating 40 hot dogs, one shy of her 2009 total.
In D.C., Roger Anderson, a 64-year-old retired real estate broker from San Jose, Calif., was wrapping up an East Coast trip to Boston, New York and Washington, where he planned to take in the holiday for a firsthand look at all the "pomp and circumstance."
"It's sort of the bucket list thing. All the things you want to see or do" before you die, he said.