As much of the nation celebrated America's 225th birthday Wednesday with traditional parades, fireworks and barbecues, many enjoyed a more dramatic holiday.

At a New York City contest, a slim Japanese man broke the world record by gobbling 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. In Minneapolis, Minn., a couple whose small boat capsized precariously at the edge of a 100-foot waterfall was saved in a hair-raising rescue. And in Tucson, Ariz., firefighters prepared to douse brush blazes sparked during the fireworks display.

In true melting-pot fashion, the United States marked its birthday in ways as numerous and varied as its people. Thousands others celebrated their country of residence by becoming American citizens.

At the annual Nathan's frankfurter-eating contest in New York, 131-pound Takeru Kobayashi inhaled a record 50 hotdogs in 12 minutes — buns and all — stunning his competition.

The 5-foot-7 Kobayashi, wearing a bandanna around his head, surpassed the old record of 25 in just 5 minutes, 13 seconds. Kobayashi made sure not to stop until he had doubled that number.

At the heart of downtown Minneapolis, a couple boating on the Mississippi River got hung up atop a spillway as onlookers lined the bridge overhead. Firefighters used a boat to rescue the man and woman Wednesday afternoon, hauling them in one by one with life rings as they secured the pair's boat so it wouldn't go over the falls. The couple, who were stranded for an hour, were reported to be shaken but safe.

In Arizona, firefighters prepared for small blazes to erupt after fireworks were launched from Tucson's "A" Mountain Wednesday night. Recent rain and sparse brush growth on the mountain reduced the chance of serious fires, according to officials.

Last year, a few small fires flared up but were quickly extinguished, and a dozen lit up the mountainside in 1999. Tucson fire says about 20 firefighters, two trucks and a water tanker will be stationed on the mountain for tonight's "Fire in the Sky" display.

The city where it all began held one of the most formal celebrations this year. Philadelphia Mayor John Street presided over the "Welcome America" festival at Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and approved July 4, 1776.

The celebration was to culminate Wednesday evening with a dramatic reading of the prized document and fireworks.

As part of the Philadelphia ceremony, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan accepted the 2001 Philadelphia Liberty Medal and $100,000 for his efforts toward AIDS research. He plans to donate the money to the World AIDS Fund he established.

"Liberty is not just a cause for celebration today, but also a worthy crusade for our time," Annan said.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were also in the City of Brotherly Love, at a block party thrown by the Rev. Herb Lusk of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church. The president also used an Independence Hall speech to encourage Americans to support federal "charitable choice" legislation, which sets aside federal funds for religious charities.

Elsewhere, revelers barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, camped out for the best seats for fireworks displays and enjoyed a day off from work.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, the fireworks show had Pearl Harbor as its backdrop. And in New Mexico, Los Alamos celebrated with a display advertised as 20 percent larger than in previous years. Fireworks had to be canceled last year in the wake of the devastating Cerro Grande wildfire.

Chicago cabdrivers returned to work at 6 a.m. Wednesday after a 24-hour strike, making the city's Independence Day festival run more smoothly. The drivers were protesting regulations requiring them to take more calls in under-served sections of Chicago.

Fans of the Boston Pops lined up Wednesday morning to score front row seats on the Esplanade for the scheduled evening performance, which was to feature Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Reynolds and a reading by Peter Jennings.

"I think they blow off more fireworks in a week in Boston than we do in the whole state of Idaho in a year," said Claudia Dambra, an Idaho resident.

In Indianapolis, Gustave "Gus" Streeter, a 104-year-old World War I veteran, was also honored. Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan awarded him the Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor the state bestows on an individual.

When asked how many more Fourth of Julys he would see in his lifetime, Streeter was optimistic.

"Oh, What the hell? Many," he said. "I love people, and I like people to love me too."

On board the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor, 19 immigrants were sworn in as American citizens.

"I have two daughters that are American; now nothing separates us," said Lebanon native Leila Nessralla, who came here in 1996.

Military veterans from the city's Chinatown neighborhood celebrated the day by raising an American flag. Immigrants Kin Ye, 72, and Liu Jing Le, 65, sang a Chinese translation of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

At a naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson's Charlottesville, Va., estate, speaker Vartan Gregorian — the Iranian-born president of the Carnegie Corp. in New York who came here at age 15 — told the 71 new Americans he had been full of the same joy and trepidation when he took the oath of U.S. citizenship 22 years ago.

"We all share the common fate of this country," Gregorian told the crowd. "We know America is not perfect, but it is perfectable."

As always, parades were the order of the day and marched through many cities and towns in honor of America's birthday.

In the nation's capital, Woody Woodpecker made an appearance, along with Beetle Bailey and Thomas the Tank Engine. Uncle Sam turned out twice — once as a balloon and once on stilts. Even Smokey the Bear came in from the forest to ride in the back of a pickup truck.

Atlanta's parade grand marshal was Navy Lt. Shane Osborn, the pilot of a spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet and crash landed in April.

"It's good to be back in the United States," said Osborn, who with his 23 crew members was held in China for 11 days.

More than 200,000 people turned out to watch the 216th annual Bristol, R.I., parade — the nation's oldest. And in Carmel, Ind., Richard Jewell — the man wrongly suspected in the bombing during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta — was the grand marshal of the city's holiday parade. "I thought it was great," he said.

One Georgia parade in Douglasville, west of Atlanta, turned tragic when a 2-year-old boy was killed. The toddler fell under the wheels of a Baptist church's float he was riding with his grandparents.

Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report