Anthony Barrett – The Lavendar Man

- Anthony Barrett, the blind "lavender man" who sold little packets of the old-fashioned fragrance from his booth in front of the Emporium for 45 years, dies at Laguna Honda Hospital. Barrett, 73, had been ill for almost three years.Known better as the Lavender Man, Anthony Barrett was well known in San Francisco as the blind man who for some 45 years sold small packets of lavender from a booth, outside the Emporium on Market Street, San Francisco, at one time, the largest shopping centre west of Chicago.
Anthony was born and raised in Tullig, Millstreet, and emigrated with his sister Catherine to the US in 1901. He found employment in the mines of Arizona, but an explosion there in 1905 saw him lose his sight. He went to San Francisco  for treatment but his sight was gone forever. Unemployed and desperate he bought some lavender, put it into simple paper wrappers, displayed them on a tray suspended on his shoulders and took a stand (in later years he sat) at the west entrance to the Emporium. There he was to remain—a living landmark.
He was quiet, well presented and made many friends there. He was helped by a family friend Liz O’Shea, who was originally of Minor Row in Millstreet, with whose family he lived with them for many years. With Liz, he returned to Millstreet for the summer of 1928.
He died on March 26th 1955, at Laguna Honda Hospital, aged 75. He had been sick for three years, and his presence was missed outside the Emporium. So well known was he that this photo of him appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of his death.


Mentions in Books, Newspapers and More

Unforgettable Characters: “For thousands of San Franciscans during nearly half a century the perfume of lavender was as much a part of the Christmas season’s aroma as the smell of popcorn and greenery. They caught whiffs of it deliciously scenting the air around the Emporium as they dashed back and forth along Market street on shopping expeditions. Countless numbers paused in their hectic pace to exchange holiday greetings with the pleasant man who sold it and to spend a dime or two for a couple of packets to take home. The vendor was Anthony Barrett, who had come to this country around the hinge of the century to seek his fortune and found employment in mines in Arizona. Tragedy struck in 1905. There was an explosion and Tony was blinded in the accident. He came here for treatment but his sight was gone forever. No one would hire the young man, and he was becoming desperate when he remembered that in his youth packages of the old-fashioned fragrance used to sell very well on the streets in England.
So he bought some lavender, put it into simple paper wrappers, displayed them on a tray suspended on his shoulders and took a stand (in later years he sat) at the west entrance to the Emporium. There he was to remain—a living landmark—for the next 45 years. Tony always was quiet. He didn’t hawk his wares or in any other way try to attract customers. Nevertheless, he managed to make a meagre living and a wealth of friends. Eventually the department store’s management built him a little shelter against the chill winds and damp fogs, and thus he became almost a part of that institution. One day in the early 1950’s Tony was missing. During a three-year illness he always was hopeful of returning to his post and fretted at the delay. But Tony died, aged 73, in the spring of 1955 at the Laguna Honda Home. With his death the city lost one of its best-known but gentlest characters, and the newspapers afforded him obituaries of a length usually reserved for bank presidents. No monument that might mark his grave in Holy Cross Cemetery could be more enduring or endearing than the nostalgic memory of the sweet scent of lavender he left behind.” — from Tales of Love and Hate in Old San Francisco  – “Unforgettable Characters” – pages 189-190

“… If you were working and downtown often do you remember the old blind man and his box of lavender sitting by the Emporium. You could smell the Lavender as you got off the streetcar … By the way the Lavender man’s packets of seeds never diminished. His cash box grew however by the generosity of the San Franciscans…” – Rosie on

“Lastly, the Lavender Man – I can still smell that terrific odour.” – []

“Tony Barrett, who has been peddling his sweet-scented lavender in front of the Emporium for decades, will get his Big Night next Thursday, when a British movie titled “The Lavender Hill Mob” opens at the Bridge Theater; Tony the Lavender Man will be the guest of honor …” – January 21, 1952 – The San Francisco Examiner

“The Emporium is deep in the memory of San Franciscans old and new. Old-timers still recall a blind man named Anthony Barrett, who sold lavender in little packets from a stall on the sidewalk in front of the Emporium for 45 years, starting in 1910.” – S.F Chronicle 2015, 22 Dec 2015

The Emporium was the biggest department store west of Chicago, or so it claimed. There was a flower stand in front; even the street peddlers were genteel. By the main entrance, a blind man named Anthony Barrett sold lavender in little packets from 1910 until his death in 1955. San Francisco Chronicle – 24 Sep 2006

SO MANY MEMORIES: The Emporium is deep in the memory of San Franciscans old and new. Old-timers still recall a blind man named Anthony Barrett, who sold lavender in little packets from a stall on the sidewalk in front of the Emporium for 45 years, starting in 1910. SF Gate 1995



New York, Passenger and Crew Lists
Name Anthony Barrett
Arrival Date 22 Apr 1901
Birth Date abt 1881 (Age 21)
Labourer from Millstreet
Destination San Francisco
Relative: Denis O’Leary, 735 Orandon (?) Rd, San Francisco, California
Gender Male Ethnicity/ Nationality Irish
Port of Departure Queenstown, Ireland
Port of Arrival New York, New York
Ship Name Umbria

He may have travelled with Ellen Sheehan (25), also from Millstreet, whose listing is directly under his. She was going to NY.


World War I Draft Registration Card (Sept 12th 1918)
Name: Anthony Barrett
Age: 38
Race: White
Birth Date: 9 Feb 1880
Street Address: 174 Third Street, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
Occupation: Street vender, Market St, by Emporium SF
Relative: Patrick Barrett (brother), 2130 22nd St, San Francisco
Description: Tall, stout, blind


1930 United States Federal Census
Name: Anthony Barrett
Birth Year: abt 1882
Gender: Male
Race: White
Age in 1930: 48
Birthplace: Ireland Free State
Marital Status: Single
Relation to Head of House: Boarder
Home in 1930: San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
Street Address: Madrid
Ward of City: A D 23
Block: 354
House Number: 151
Dwelling Number: 5
Family Number: 6
Attended School No
Father’s Birthplace: Ireland Free State
Mother’s Birthplace: Ireland Free State
Language Spoken: English
Naturalization: Naturalized
Occupation: Pedler
Class of Worker: Working on own account
Employment: Yes
Household Members:
Laurence O Reilly (a Cooper)
Elizabeth O Reilly
Edward O Reilly
Thaddeus O Reilly
Mary B O Reilly
Elizabeth O Reilly
Anthony Barrett

Elizabeth O’Reilly was apparently Elizabeth Ann O’Shea of Minor Row in Millstreet. Birth notes says that she was born on Jan 5th 1892, but no birth / baptism records exist for that.

[ancestry – Elizabeth Ann O’Shea]
See the notes on Elizabeth Ann O’Shea and her roots at Minor Row
1920 Census: Lawrence, Elizabeth, Thadeus, Mary B O’Reilly, 1616 Grove St, SF
1939: The Reilly family were living at 154 Madrid Street  (WWII Draft Registration)
Lawrence O’Reilly died 17 March 1952


BARRETT— March 26, 1955, Anthony Barrett, brother of Mrs. Katherine Murphy and Matt Barrett, friend of Mrs. Elizabeth O’Reilly; a native of County Cork, Ireland. Friends are invited to attend the funeral Monday, March 28, at 8:30 a.m. from Duggan’s. 3434 17th St., thence to Corpus Christi Church where a Requiem Mass will be offered at 9 a.m. Interment, Holy Cross Cemetery. Side NOTE: Bilateral Blindness occurred abt. 1925 in a mine blast.  [San Francisco EXAMINER Sunday March 27, 1955 Pg 55]

Anthony’s Grave (Find a Grave)
Anthony Barrett (-28 Mar 1955)
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA
Plot: R2 4 g40
TODO: Is there a headstone, has anyone got a photo of it?


His Family 

Birth of Antoney Barrett on February 9th 1880 at Tullig Drishane, to Ellen Barrett (Behan) and William Barrett, Tullig, a farmer
Baptism of ANTONIUS (ANTHONY) BARRETT of TULLIG on 10 February 1880, to William Barrett and Ellen Behan. Sponsored by Jeremiah Connor and Julia Connor, priest J Larkin

There’s a bunch of other siblings not on ancestry (better)

1901 census: Residents of a house 7 in Tullig (Drishane, Cork)

Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
Barrett William 78 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic
Barrett Ellen 60 Female Wife Roman Catholic
Barrett Patrick 25 Male Son Roman Catholic
Barrett Matthew 22 Male Son Roman Catholic
Barrett Anthony 20 Male Son –
a Farm Servant
Roman Catholic
Barrett Caterine 18 Female Daughter Roman Catholic

TODO: His Family

Father: Death of William Barrett on April 16th 1905 at Tullig, aged 84

1911 census: Residents of a house 42 in Tullig (Drishane, Cork)

Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
Barrett John 47 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic
Barrett Maggie 44 Female Wife Roman Catholic
Barrett Patrick 17 Male Son Roman Catholic
Barrett Ellen 71 Female Mother Roman Catholic
Barrett Matt 33 Male Brother Roman Catholic

Mother: Death of Margaret Barrett on October 15th 1917 at Tullig, Drishane; widow of William Barrett a farmer; Maggie Barrett daughter-in-law present at death.


The Emporium was a mid-line department store chain headquartered in San Francisco, California, which operated for 100 years—from 1896 to 1996. The flagship location on San Francisco’s Market Street was a destination shopping location for decades, and several branch stores operated in the various suburbs of the Bay Area. The Emporium and its sister department store chains were acquired by Federated Department Stores in 1995, and many converted to Macy’s locations.

The Emporium at Market Street, San Francisco was demolished in 1996, and replaced by Westfield San Francisco Centre. The original dome of the Emporium was preserved in the new Westfield building. [wiki] [maps]


There’s a very interesting story called the Associated Un-Charities written by Frank Norris in 1897 about three blind men in San Francisco, one of whom was the Lavendar Man. It appears in The Apprenticeship Writings of Frank Norris, 1896-1898, Volume 1, from page 166 to page 175 (read it here)

There was likely a Lavender Man in San Francisco before Anthony!


His sister:
MURPHY April 8. 1961, Catherine, beloved wife of the late Eamond Murphy; mother of John, William, Matthew, Joseph and the late Eddie Murphy; sister of the late John, Patrick, Matthew and Anthony Barrett; grandmother of Brother Patrick Mrk William, Dennis and Michael Murphy; aunt of Aileen Colfentow (?) and Agnes Visco(?). A native of Millstreet, Tullig, County Cork, Ireland. Funeral Tuesday at 9:15 a. m. from LEARY BROS.. 2917 24th St. near Bryant, thence to Immaculate Conception Church, ???? ???? ??? Requiem Mass Mass will he celebrated at 9:45 a. m. Internment ???? cemetery. Rosary Monday 8 pm. (Spiritual bouquets preferred.) [The San Francisco Examiner, Monday, April 10, 1961]


 Anthony Barrett the Lavender Man with Jennie Taggert and Catherine Barrett, his sister.

Anthony Barrett with Elizabeth O’Shea (Minor Row)and her (Murphy) family in 1928 in SF. He lived with them for many years, and the young girls used to help Anthony filling his packets of lavender seeds. When Liz was sailing to the US in 1912, she named Anthony’s sister as her contact at her destination in San Francisco.

[note: for his return, he departed Cobh on September 1st 1928 and arrived into NY on September 9th on board the SS Muenchen
Passport no. 10169, issued Washington 29/2/28
Address: 151 Madrid St. San Francisco, California.
He was accompanied on the trip by Eilzabeth O’Reilly (O’Shea) (passenger record)]


His Homeplace

Anthony grew up with his family in Tullig, on the hill about a mile to the east of Millstreet. Their home had been built in the mid to late 1800’s, but was felled in the early 1990’s for a new home. There was about 50 acres in the farm.


[Ancestry – jbdrumcat]


3 thoughts on “Anthony Barrett – The Lavendar Man”

  1. Many thanks for this wonderful account of the life of Anthony Barrett . The town land of Tullig overlooked the townland of Liscahane where I was born and raised , so I was familiar with all the neighbours in the locality . And now to get this wonderful account in such detail of one of them is great . Again many thanks .

  2. Thanks so much for that lovely story about Anthony Barrett ,a true survivor and definitely a glass half full sort of man.So many wonderful and interesting people started life around Millstreet and surrounding areas then moved on for their own reasons.

  3. Thank you for sharing this John.
    It was fun to come upon your posting of ‘The Lavender Man’
    Yes, my grandmother spoke of Anthony on various occasions (when telling us of her Murphy and Barrett relations). As you know… Anthony was her Barrett uncle (on her father’s side) and her Murphy uncle (on her mother’s side).
    I didn’t have this photo of Anthony and Elizabeth with (her yet another) Murphy family and have added it to my ‘Ancestry tree’.
    Hope all is well with you,
    Please (oh please) say hello to all in Tullig (from your cousins in northern California)

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