Ethel Finney Lybarger (1885-1969)

At the age of 10, my grandmother Ethel Finney, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries in Egypt, was invited to join a wealthy family on a tour of Italy. She wrote a letter about the trip to her 11-year-old cousin Lucile, in Ohio. Praising Ethel’s descriptive abilities, the church published her letter in the United Presbyterian, Sept. 24, 1896. Reading this letter 100 years after she wrote it, I adore this wide-eyed girl who looked at a dog carved in marble and almost heard it barking.

Dear Cousin Lucile – I suppose you would like to know what I saw when I was in Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan.

In Naples, we went to see the museum. [Naples National Archeological Museum]. It had so many queer things; such a lot of old paintings from Pompeii. Our guide would always be admiring the “expressions” on the dog’s face and the cock and goat. There was some lovely mosaic work for the floor and wall. It seems so strange that, in the olden times, they knew so much.

I saw some very large statues, one of Hercules, the three golden apples in one hand and the other resting on a lion. There was another statue of a group [the Farnese Bull] in which they were trying to catch a bull for a sacrifice; they were all confused; the dog was barking very loud, it seemed.

In the afternoon we went to see Pompeii. We did it in the rain; if I could see it in sunshine I would like it better, but what I saw was enough to give me an idea of it. It seemed so strange to see the people that were once real, true people, that could talk and walk, but are now mere forms to be wondered at. There were lots of jars that were found in the ruins, and ever so many other things, and the big door of the city was especially interesting. Next day, in Rome, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, where the statue of St. Peter is; all the Catholics go and kiss his big toe, and it is all worn off by the kissing.

I saw some old manuscripts of the Bible; some were illustrated and some were plain writing, of a few centuries ago. We went to the catacombs, but as soon as we got started I thought we would get lost. I had read a story of a man who got lost in them, and he wandered about, till after a week or so he saw a light and followed it. The memory of this frightened me more than ever, and I wanted to come out; so we came out.

In a little chapel there was the tomb of St. Sebastian, who was martyred, and a marble statue of him with golden arrows piercing him. It was a dreadful place! Such a cold, misty air! Boo! It makes me shiver to think of it!

In Venice, St. Mark’s Basilica is a wonderful place. On the roof are little dovecotes for the pigeons. This is the place where the pigeons are so numerous. A man goes around selling little bags of corn at two cents a bag. I threw a few grains on the ground, and all the pigeons came around me and would peck at my shoes. There was a lady feeding them out of her hand, and one got on her hat, and she got cross.

We went on a gondola up the Grand Canal in Venice and around another way. It is very much fun to ride in a gondola.

Then we went to Milan and we saw the famous “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, but you can hardly recognize it; the copies are better. It is quite a large canvas. Once it was plastered over, and Napoleon the Great had his stables there. with the damp and plaster put together, no wonder it got spoiled.

Next day we left Milan, and that finished my sightseeing, and that finishes my letter.

Your cousin, Ethel F.

Ethel graduated from college and taught high school French for several years until marrying Harry Swayne Lybarger in 1913 in Coshocton, Ohio.

Harry was a history teacher. Ethel gave French and piano lessons. They had four children, (below, from left: Edwin L. Lybarger II, Nancy, Mary, Davida Margaret).

In 1924, returning to Egypt after the death of her mother, she wrote her children a marvelous, vivid description of what it looked and sounded and felt like to be engulfed in a three-day sandstorm. In the 1950’s, until her eyesight failed, she worked as director of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Memorial Museum, which had a collection of Eastern art and Native American artifacts remarkable for a town of 12,000. Harry suffered a stroke in 1955, and she cared for him at home until his death in 1958. She passed away in 1969 at the age of 84, in Coshocton, Ohio.

One comment on “Ethel Finney Lybarger (1885-1969)

  1. Hi! I found a series of letters at our local vintage store to Ethel Finney throughout her life, including wedding preparations, Ohio state government matters, etc. I thought that someone in her family would want to keep these. I’m based in San Francisco, so I’m not sure how they ended up here but I thought I’d reach out in case you wanted them. Something as personal as these (and amazing–they’re over 100 years old) should stay within the family. Please let me know…email me at

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