NEW YORK – Fireworks lit the night sky above New York with a kaleidoscope of colors shooting 1,000 feet into the air on an Independence Day that began with the Statue of Liberty's crown opening to the public for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001.
It was the nation's biggest fireworks display, with more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics exploding Saturday over a mile-and-a-half of the Hudson River, a new vantage point for New York's festivities. Millions of spectators watched from both sides of the river.
Among them were Jamalat Bayoumy and his wife, Mosad Mohamad — food vendors who work near the river. They lost an estimated $1,000 in business when police asked them to shut down because of swelling crowds.
"This is very nice," Bayoumy said, "but we're losing money in America."
But, his wife added, "America is free. We have green cards and we dream to become Americans."
While the recession forced many communities to scale down, or even cancel, their fireworks, "we're a country of survivors and fighters, and we try to make things work," said Gary Souza, whose family-owned, California-based company is staging the New York display as well as hundreds of others across the country — including the nation's capital.
In Washington, the daylong celebrations started with a parade along Constitution Avenue and ended with fireworks over the Washington Monument as a band played a medley of patriotic music.
President Obama, speaking to military families at the White House for Independence Day festivities, told the service members they were "the latest, strongest link in that unbroken chain that stretches back to the Continental Army."
Vice President Joe Biden spent the Fourth of July in Iraq, presiding over a naturalization ceremony for 237 U.S. troops from 59 countries. He had lunch with the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade from Delaware, to which his son, Beau, belongs.
Former President George W. Bush spoke amid thunderous applause in rural Woodward, Okla., calling the U.S. the "greatest nation on the face of the earth." He thanked members of the military for their service, and thanked spectators for giving "a retired guy something to do."
In Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, the city held a parade through the Old City neighborhood for the first time in 18 years. Descendants of the Declaration's signers gathered at the Liberty Bell, and fireworks were planned over the Museum of Art.
On Saturday morning in Boston, with its rich Revolutionary War history, the Navy's oldest commissioned warship performed its annual turnaround in the harbor. The USS Constitution — "Old Ironsides" — marked the day by firing a 21-gun salute, the highest maritime honor, followed by 19 volleys.
On Saturday evening, Bostonians filled the banks of the Charles River for a free Boston Pops concert featuring Neil Diamond.
And on Brooklyn's Coney Island, an iconic Fourth of July event — Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest — was won Saturday afternoon by Joey Chestnut, who chomped down a record 68 dogs.
In New York, Manhattan's six-lane West Side Highway was closed to traffic so pedestrians could view the fireworks. Across the river, Frank Sinatra's hometown of Hoboken, N.J., had one of the best views, facing the heart of the barge lineup in the Hudson against the Manhattan skyline for "one of the biggest and best shows we've ever put together," said Souza.
The celebration returned to Manhattan's West Side for the first time since the 9/11 attacks. The extravaganza was expanded this year with more than 44,000 shells.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum — a retired World War II aircraft carrier — hosted the live NBC broadcast of the spectacle, featuring the cast of Broadway's "West Side Story" and other stars.
The festivities turned somber in North Carolina, where authorities said a truckload of fireworks exploded on Ocracoke Island off the coast, killing two workers and critically injuring three. And in central Florida, officials say one person was killed in a lightning strike at a Fourth of July gathering in Lakeland and at least 18 others were taken to hospitals.