Fireworks Roar As U.S. Marks Independence

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The Fourth of July was a day for parades, picnics, fireworks and summer stunts such as the annual hot dog-eating contest, but it also included sober reminders of a nation at war and of the ongoing threat of terrorism.

In New York, relatives of some of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks gathered to watch a 20-ton slab of New York state granite placed as the cornerstone of the skyscraper that will replace the destroyed World Trade Center towers.

"It's a new beginning," said John Foy, whose mother-in-law was killed. "We all need to move on and rise above this."

Engraved to honor "the enduring spirit of freedom," the stone's placement marked the start of construction on the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower.

Sunday was also a day for parades, picnics, fireworks and summer stunts such as the annual hot dog-eating contest at New York City's Coney Island.

For the fourth straight year, a rail-thin competitor outperformed much beefier opponents to take the title in the Nathan's Famous hot dog-eating contest.

Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan — just 5-foot-7 and 132 pounds — wolfed down 53 1/2 wieners in 12 minutes, shattering his own world record. His nearest challenger gulped down only 38.

"I could have done a lot, a lot more," Kobayashi said through an interpreter.

In Manhattan, organizers billed the fireworks show as the largest pyrotechnic display in the country, with more than 36,000 shells exploding in concert with a tribute to the Statue of Liberty. The fireworks lit up the lower Manhattan skyline and thundered throughout the city.

Debra Clay, 54, said it was her first year attending the show. Despite the huge crowd and threats of terrorism, she was undeterred. "I would come again next year," she said.

At Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, given each July 4 by the nonprofit, nonpolitical Philadelphia Foundation to recognize leadership in the pursuit of freedom. The medal's $100,000 prize will go to support Afghan orphans, he said.

Torrential rain washed out the Independence Day parade in the nation's capital Sunday, but fireworks on National Mall proceeded as planned under cloudy skies. President Bush (news - web sites) planned to watch the display from a White House balcony.

Sometimes the holiday festivities produced the unexpected.

In Utah, two young bull moose, each more than 6-feet tall and weighing hundreds of pounds, crashed the Fourth of July parade in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, coming within a few feet of spectators.

"I told my family, that's something you don't see at the downtown parades," Jeff Worthington said after Saturday's celebration at Brighton.

In Boston, Tracy Silva normally spends Sunday nights singing karaoke with friends, but this year the mother of two was on the bill for a bigger show — the city's annual Fourth of July Pops concert and fireworks display.

"It's just a dream," Silva said a few hours before her nighttime performance in front of a crowd of thousands, which she earned by beating out 700 competitors in the Pops' first talent competition.

She sang her favorite song, "Your Daddy's Son," from the musical "Ragtime," backed up by the Pops orchestra and conductor Keith Lockhart. Her performance received a standing ovation, and Lockhart gave her an onstage hug.

"The Fourth of July has special meaning in Boston," Mayor Tom Menino said to the crowd gathered at City Hall for the city's annual celebration. "Our country and everything we stand for started right here in these streets."