The nation's most extravagant display of July 4 fireworks Monday was a triumphant celebration that turned sober briefly to commemorate the 10-year mark since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tens of thousands of people from around the world streamed to Manhattan's West Side to see the pyrotechnics show over the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, featuring more than 40,000 shells exploding in choreographed, multicolored progression.
"It's beautiful," said Rosa Riveras, a 57-year-old health educator from Manhattan, as bursts of light filled the sky. "It's amazing. I'm loving it."
NBC ran an exclusive broadcast from a pier along the river, with Nick Lachey of the show "The Sing-Off" hosting. Viewers got pre-recorded performances by Beyonce, filmed in front of the Statue of Liberty, and country music star Brad Paisley. Then the fireworks lit up the sky, tightly choreographed to a half-hour soundtrack from Katy Perry, LeAnn Rimes, Jennifer Hudson and other artists.
Beth Cochran of Scottsdale, Ariz., was with two childhood friends from Fishkill, N.Y. The group of three periodically broke into renditions of "God Bless America" and other patriotic songs.
"We do not take friendship or freedom for granted," said Cochran, wearing an American flag tank top. "I'm proud to be an American."
John Woods, a 52-year-old information technology consultant from Wimbledon, England, said he appreciated the diversity of the crowd, which included many immigrants and tourists from around the country and abroad.
"I think it's just a celebration of being an American," he said.
The show, sponsored by Macy's, paid tribute to the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty's debut in New York Harbor. Fireworks blasted off from six barges along the river to heights of 1,000 feet.
As "Amazing Grace" was sung, bursts of golden fireworks lit up the sky to pay tribute to victims of 9/11. Big cheers broke out in the crowd during the finale.
All across the country, Americans marked the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with parades, fireworks, barbecues _ plus presidential campaigning, a White House birthday and competitive eating.
Thousands showed up near the Washington Monument to eagerly await the annual fireworks show on the National Mall, while others were throwing on Hawaiian shirts and shorts to ski the still-snowy slopes at resorts from California to Colorado.
Earlier in the day 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.
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., wolfed down 62 hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest, winning his fifth straight title. 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 Boston, the annual Boston Pops concert was a must. In Akron, Ohio, the Rib, White & Blue Food Festival was enticing. And then, there were Nevada's casinos, which promised a pyrotechnics extravaganza that could be a gambler's best bet.
At the mountaintop home of 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.
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.
Speaking to U.S. troops, Obama told them, "America is proud of all of you."
"You represent the latest in a long line of heroes who have served our country with honor, who have made incredible sacrifices to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy," the president said.
Some of the Republicans hoping to replace Obama in the White House spent part of the day campaigning in states where presidential politics are as much a part of the holiday as fireworks and barbecues
U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, of Minnesota, marched in a parade in Clear Lake, Iowa. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman both marched in the Amherst parade. Businessman and GOP hopeful Herman Cain skipped the parades but threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game in Manchester, N.H.
"Aside from the politicking and the handshaking and the enthusiasm that our campaign is determined to generate in this state, we're going to reflect on what it means to be an American," Huntsman told reporters. "To share inalienable rights, to share our Constitutional privileges."
There were also fireworks mishaps Monday, including at least one death in Oklahoma after fire officials said a 20-year-old man was struck in the throat by a rocket-type firecracker. In Kansas, fireworks were blamed for starting at least one house fire in the Topeka area.
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik in New York and Holly Ramer in Amherst, N.H., contributed to this report.