WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ann Sloan unpacks family memorabilia carefully. There's the shoe her mother, Barbara Klemens, had on when she came out of the woods. She was just 4 – and it lay bare a national wound.
“It’s still a reminder. For some it’s a very sorry … There were people who were very much hurt at that time. Unfortunately for some Jewish families, it was very hurtful,” said Sloan.
Here's what happened in 1928. Barbara was lost overnight. Her family and hundreds of others searched. But others were busy spreading this rumor in Massena: Jews had kidnapped and killed her for her blood.
“The most surprising thing is how scared the Jews who lived in Massena were when this happened," said Edward Berenson, author of “The Accusation”. "The Jews thought that there was going to be a pogrom.”
Some huddled at the local synagogue. When Barbara came out of the woods, that squelched the rumor, but not the horror of the danger it put Jews in.
“This story, it became a national story. I found coverage of this in small town papers in Texas and Louisianna and Montana. I mean everywhere,” said Berenson.
Berenson, born in Massena, wanted to know why this particular slander raised its ugly head there. He interviewed Barbara and others.
"Very straightforward. Very kind. Engaged well with my mother...She enjoyed sharing, I guess,” said Sloan.
She let Berenson borrow her memorabilia. Now Berenson's book “The Accusation” is hitting bookshelves.
They don't exactly boast about this incident in Massena. But they haven't ignored it or covered it up either.
A 2011 novel, “The Blood Lie,” was based on the incident. Sloan remembers bringing her mother to a gathering where the book was introduced.
“Raising my hand and introducing my mother as the 'little girl' that's in this historical novel. And they were delighted that she was still alive,” said Sloan.
For years Sloan’s mother was one of the last living links to the incident in Massena. She passed away just last month.