Silver Dollar Sidewalk

Long before Jeopardy, long before The Weakest Link, there was Silver Dollar Sidewalk, WEIM’s daily radio quiz show in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

It was 1955. I was 12. My job that summer was to make grilled cheese sandwiches for my brother Peter during his lunch break from the furniture factory.

Peter lay on the couch, and I sat in the wing chair listening to the radio. The announcer was on the sidewalk in front of the station.

“What’s the capital of South Dakota?” he queried.

“Pierre,” I responded.

When was the telephone invented?

“1876,” I snapped.

The folks on the sidewalk were less sure. For every wrong answer, the announcer noisily added another dollar to the prize pot.

Peter was insistent. “You should go, You should go.” he ordered.

“What are you talking about?” I retorted. “I can’t go.”

“Go to Fitchburg,” Peter said. “Go to Fitchburg.”

The next day I left Peter a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and took the bus five miles to Fitchburg.

When I reached the sidewalk in front of the radio station, the jackpot was already up to $10 dollars. The DJ dramatically repeated the question. “In what state was Custer’s Last Stand?”

A man answered: “Arizona.”

Ca-ching! The announcer added another dollar to the sound effect of a cash register opening.

A woman tried next, “Idaho!” Ca-ching! Another dollar was added to the pot.

“Wyoming!” Ca-ching!

My heart was pounding. I was waving my hand from the back of the crowd.

“Utah.” Ca-ching!

“Arizona,” for the second time. Ca-ching!

For 15 silver dollars, the announcer shouted. “Maybe this little girl knows the answer.” He handed me the microphone.

“Montana,” I said emphatically. And the 15 silver dollars came pouring out of the DJ’s hand into mine.

I smiled all the way home.

At 12 I knew all the answers.
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