DC native finds calling in Fourth of July history

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- Historian James Heintze can tick off colorful accounts of how the nation has celebrated the Fourth of July over the years: In the 19th century, canons fired, church bells sounded and fireworks exploded.

Indianapolis residents watched in 1911 as two trains purposely collided at full speed, the locomotive personnel bailing out before the crash.

The gray-haired, bespectacled academic has chronicled just about everything there is to know about commemorating the birth of the United States. His 360-page, factoid-packed book, "The Fourth of July Encyclopedia," was published last year, and he's now moved on to researching a book about Fourth-related music. He has a weighty Web site on the Fourth, making him a resource for TV shows, politicians, re-enactors and even high school students writing term papers.

Heintze, a 65-year-old retired librarian at American University in Washington, has dedicated more than a dozen years to researching the history of this single day — a passion that began with his interest in Independence Day music. He found himself spending long days reading microfilms of articles and rare documents, at times taking verbal notes on a voice recorder in libraries that prohibited pencils and pens.

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