Editor’s Note: Chris Brock interviewed author Edward Berenson about his new book “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town” for an article that was published Oct. 5. If you missed this related story, you can read it to learn more about the background of this story, as well as listen to Second Look podcast.
The person who raised a ruckus in 1928 by unwittingly triggering a blood libel conspiracy theory in Massena died in August at the age of 94 at an adult home in Hermon.
The family of Barbara Griffiths remained in the north country following Barbara’s trek into the woods in September of 1928. She remained in the woods for a little more than 24 hours that September before finding her way out one mile away from her Cherry Street home.
When asked if her clothing was not soaked during the night by the rain, she replied, “Sure but they dried out again,” according to a Sept. 25, 1928 Watertown Daily Times story.
Barbara graduated from Massena High School and in 1947 from St. Lawrence University, Canton, with a degree in physics.
“I came to have both a lot of affection and admiration for her,” said Edward Berenson, author of “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town.”
“She was a remarkable woman,” Mr. Berenson said. “She studied physics at St. Lawrence University at a time when there weren’t many women studying any kind of sciences, and physics, especially. I admired that about her, and she was lovely to me. I spent several afternoons with her. She was incredibly generous with her time.”
In 1947, Barbara married John F. Klemens of Brooklyn in Massena. He died in 2017.
Mrs. Klemens’s Aug. 27 obituary in the Watertown Daily Times recalled her 1925 disappearance and the hysteria that followed.
“She created her own archive of press clippings about the incident,” Mr. Berenson said. “She let me photograph the entire archive.’’
Mrs. Klemens’s obituary also reflected her many passions, ranging from her love of the outdoors and SLU hockey to being renowned for her knitting skills. In 2002, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York awarded Barbara one of its North Country Heritage Awards, citing her as “a knitter’s best friend to at least three generations of residents in and near Canton.”
For 50 years she was the proprietor of the Yarn Shop in Canton, first located on an enclosed porch at 55 Court St., and later sprawling through a 14-room house at 10 Church St.
She was also a committed evening bridge player and tackled the Sunday New York Times crossword each week.
“Although Barbara didn’t have any memories about the incident, she did remember a lot of things that happened afterwards,” Mr. Berenson said. “From talking to Barb, I was able to see that people didn’t forget this right away — that it took a while for the memories of this 1928 incident to recede.”