America celebrates Independence Day
NEW YORK (CNN) — Revelers pulled out the beer and barbecue to celebrate Independence Day on Wednesday, a tradition that’s expected to fill the night sky with fireworks and music in many of the nation’s small towns and big cities.
But some of those celebrating will do so without electricity, as power outages have left thousands in the dark while a heat wave scorches the country.
Warnings of temperatures near or above triple digits are in place for parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.
Several cities have scrapped plans to hold their annual fireworks displays over concerns of rising temperatures and dangerously dry conditions.
“It’s been in the upper 90s to low 100s all week,” said Sheridan County, Wyoming, police spokeswoman Sarah Benavidez, who said her county has issued a fireworks ban across much of the region.
Plans for displays were also canceled in towns across Indiana, including Delphi, where authorities said they were prohibiting even consumer-grade fireworks.
Other areas, still struggling from the economic downturn, opted out of their pyrotechnic plans for a simpler reason: The price tag.
“When you are faced with difficult budget choices, you have to sort out the desirable from the essential,” said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. “The city council felt that this was an appropriate cut to make.”
But his New York residents, not wanting to miss out on their customary dose of Independence Day explosions, sought out personal donations to make up the difference.
A total of $60,000 was raised, according to city officials. And one major contributor stood out among the rest: A woman known only as Guru Madeleine.
Her organization, the S.E.L.F.-Help Foundation, put forth a $50,000 contribution so that the show could go on.
“From the moment that I called to do it, I have felt nothing but joy,” Madeleine told CNN. “I saw the energy shift in the people, that excitement, and you have to have that. When attitudes are starting to feel hopeless, you have to have something to say ‘Let’s go, come on, come on, we can do this.’”
In the nation’s capital, a fireworks display is set go ahead as planned, despite the tens of thousands who remain without power in the surrounding region.
“This is what it’s all about, right here,” said Alice Fachman, an Ohio native, referring to the city’s annual parade. The capital’s annual reading of the Declaration of Independence outside the National Archives was also one of the day’s main attractions.
President Barack Obama marked the holiday on Wednesday with a White House greeting following a naturalization ceremony in the East Room for a group of active-duty U.S. service members.
“Happy Fourth of July,” he told the group. “I have to tell you, personally, that this is one of my favorite things to do.”
The ceremony comes less than a month after the Obama administration announced it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.
“It brings me great joy and inspiration because it reminds us that we are a country that is bound together not simply by ethnicity or blood lines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas,” Obama added.
The holiday commemorates America’s original 13 colonies’ declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776. July 4 has since become a federal holiday, giving all Americans an annual opportunity to celebrate.
William Schuller, a 76-year-old resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, said that even though he’s “older than Methuselah,” he still plans to mark the holiday by working the ticket booth at the Lincoln Race Course.
“I live across the street from a real fancy neighborhood, and they always do some real nice fireworks,” he said, chuckling. “They’ll spend $10,000 on fireworks, so we’ll all sit in the cul-de-sac and watch.”
In Tennessee, Strawberry Plains resident Diane Wilson, 67, said the day brings memories of her childhood, particularly one occasion in which she stepped barefoot on a lit sparkler.
“Didn’t make me scared of sparklers though,” Wilson said, laughing. “Just didn’t go barefoot much after that.”
In New York, Bill Etzel — a Chicago native — visited One World Trade Center, the structure in Lower Manhattan emerging from the scene of the September 11 attacks more than a decade ago.
“The Fourth means more today than it ever has before,” said Etzel.
Meanwhile, a popular hot dog eating competition brought two reigning champs across the East River to Brooklyn for the annual tradition.
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas defended her title Wednesday afternoon at the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition, setting a new women’s world record after downing 45 hot dogs and buns.
She weighs about 100 pounds.
Her male counterpart, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, also defended his title during the competition, tying his world record by downing 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
His victory Wednesday marks his sixth win at the competition.
CNN’s Brian Vitagliano, Frederick Bernas and Nina Ibarra contributed to this report