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Americans celebrate 239 years as independent nation with fireworks, parades, hot dog contest

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Americans celebrated 239 years as an independent nation on Saturday with extravagant fireworks displays, rock and classical concerts and parades both big and small. Here were some highlights of Independence Day festivities around the nation:


SPECTATORS BRAVE TIGHT SECURITY FOR NYC FIREWORKS SHOW

Hundreds of thousands of people braved tight security along New York City's East River to watch the annual Macy's Fourth of July fireworks display.

Minneapolis resident Joe Cunningham said Saturday's fireworks show was "awesome" and lived up to his family's expectations.

Cunningham said New York's show will be the benchmark for all other fireworks displays.

Macy's said the 25-minute show featured more than 50,000 shells set off from five barges on the river.

The fireworks show was broadcast on NBC.

The tight security included officers searching backpacks and purses. Other officers used hand-held radiation detectors to scan baby carriages and large suitcases.


OBAMA TELLS SERVICE MEMBERS FREEDOM IS PAID FOR BY MILITARY MEN, WOMEN

President says U.S. service members make it possible to enjoy the "incredible blessings" in the greatest country on earth.

He says "freedom is not free" but is paid for by all the men and women of the military, including those who blanketed the White House South Lawn for a concert in their honor by .

Obama spoke minutes before the annual Fourth of July fireworks lit up the night sky over the National Mall. He was accompanied by .

Heavy rain that soaked Washington all day forced the White House to cancel its annual Fourth of July picnic for members of the military and their families.

The USO military service organization sponsored the concert that featured a performance by Mars.


GAY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS MARK LANDMARK 1965 DEMONSTRATION

Gay rights activists gathered in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July to mark the progress of their movement and pay tribute to those who launched it a half-century ago.

But they also made it clear that the fight for equality was far from over.

LGBT activist Aisha Moodie-Mills hailed the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages nationwide, but said in many places "you can still get married on Sunday and then fired on Monday."

Organizers remembered some of the earliest gay rights marches, including a gathering of about 40 protesters in the same location on July 5, 1965 calling for equality.

They called that a bold and courageous act by the standards of the day, when homosexuals could be arrested for intimate acts even in the privacy of their own homes.


PIT SPITTING

A 15-year-old girl won the women's division of the 42nd annual cherry spitting contest in Eau Claire, Michigan, by sending a pit farther than anyone else: 49 1/4 feet.

"I just took a deep breath and pushed hard," said Megan Ankrapp of Buchanan. "I was shocked."

Kevin Bartz won the championship with a spit of 48 feet and 8 inches. Ankrapp was not allowed to participate in the overall championship round because her earlier spits were too short to qualify.

Bartz said he was excited to finally beat Brian Krause, the 2014 champ, but then realized a teenager had sent a pit farther than he did.

"I look up and say, 'Wait a minute. One of the girls beat me,'" said Bartz, 48. "It's not quite as exciting."


NEW CITIZENS SWORN IN

Naturalization ceremonies big and small were held across the U.S.

The director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Baltimore district administered the oath of allegiance to 40 people from 27 countries during a ceremony at The Engineers Club in Baltimore.

In Plymouth, Vermont, 20 people became U.S. citizens at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. The great-granddaughter of President and Mrs. Coolidge sang the national anthem.

Officials say over 4,000 new citizens were welcomed in more than 50 naturalization ceremonies across the country from July 1 through July 4.


PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS CAMPAIGN IN PARADES

Parades across Iowa and New Hampshire were clear reminders of the race for the White House: Red balloons promoting "Jeb! 2016," a tractor draped in a banner and dutiful volunteers holding signs and chanting.

Former Govs. of Florida, of Texas and of Rhode Island as well as South Carolina Sen. worked the crowd in Amherst, while Hillary Rodham Clinton marched in a parade in New Hampshire's North Country. New Jersey Gov. and Florida Sen. spent the holiday in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, as Louisiana Gov. , Vermont Sen. and former Maryland Gov. met voters in Iowa.


NATHAN'S HOT DOG EATING CONTEST

Matt Stonie devoured 62 wieners and buns in 10 minutes to upset Joey "Jaws" Chestnut in the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, breaking Chestnut's bid for a ninth straight victory.

Stonie beat Chestnut by two wieners. Both are from San Jose, California. The third-place finisher ate 35 hot dogs.

Defending champion Miki Sudo won the women's division by devouring 38 wieners and buns in 10 minutes. She downed four more hot dogs than last year and bested Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas of Alexandria, Virginia, who ate 31 wieners.


This story has been corrected to show that third-place finisher in men's contest ate 35 hot dogs, not 32.


A HISTORIC CANDY DROP

A pilot who delivered candy to children in Berlin at the end of World War II parachuted sweets down to Orem, Utah, to celebrate Independence Day.

Gail Halvorsen, 94, also known as the "Candy Bomber," dropped 1,000 chocolate bars attached to tiny parachutes at Scera Park on Friday. He flew over the area three times before releasing the cargo into the hands of the children below.

Deb Jackson, co-chair of the event, estimated more than 50,000 people stood in 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures to watch the 4 p.m. drop.

Halvorsen flew in a fixed-wing bomber from World War II with two escort planes attending, the Daily Herald of Provo reported.

Washington.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, looks to shake hands while participating in the Fourth of July Parade in Amherst, N.H., Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, looks to shake hands while participating in the Fourth of July Parade in Amherst, N.H., Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

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