Security camera tape showed a silhouette of Puckett’s Stetson.
Others report unexplained banging in the beer cooler — Puckett, after all, was fond of his beers — and the feeling of a stranger’s touch on their necks. Regulars say they have actually spotted an old white-haired man brushing tables. But when they look again, the stranger is gone.
Jackie Reagor, for one, doesn’t take much stock in the stories. “I think all of ya’ll have lost your minds,” Reagor said one afternoon, speaking to others gathered around the bar. He was like a single Dana Scully in a roomful of Fox Mulders. “The last thing he would want to be remembered for is haunting this damn place,” he said with a firmness bordering on scorn. “There are a lot of other places he’d rather be — like Lake Worth or Eagle Mountain Lake. Fishing.”
Helen Puckett also shares Reagor’s deep skepticism. Contacted at home, the pool hustler’s widow said that her late husband was a terribly lazy man, and so she found it hard to believe that he would suddenly start making such a big effort now. And besides, Utley did plenty of living when he was, well, living.
“He loved life and he lived it like he wanted to,” said Helen Puckett. “He partied, he went with all the girls, he went fishing, and he played pool.
Helen Puckett doesn’t believe in spirits, and yet others do. And so the stories persist. Take, for instance, the testimony of Rick Myers, the former manager who brought in the clairvoyant. Myers said the poolroom television set would sometimes come on by itself, and that he got so spooked by it that he drew a pistol. There was also the very startling matter of “the ghosts on the security tape.” Myers saw these supposed ghosts, as did the Fast Freddy’s owner, Mike Lynch. The tape apparently portrayed an image of a man and woman floating through the room.
“It was after closing time and there wasn’t anybody there and we saw his image — it was like a shadow,” said Lynch, who unfortunately taped over the recording. “We kept running it back and running it back, and wondering if our imaginations were getting the best of us. But it looked exactly like a man in a hat and a woman talking through the poolroom. It was very weird.”
Lynch said the silhouette perfectly fit the description of U.J. Puckett. After all, U.J. wore a big Stetson when he used to come around Fast Freddy’s, and he also had that shock of white hair.
Others also insist that it’s U.J. Puckett’s big thick fingers that run down the backs of pretty girls at Fast Freddy’s. Puckett, after all, loved the girls.
And they say it’s his size 13 shoes clomping around on the boards by the restrooms, and it’s U.J. grabbing beers out of the cooler.
“He’s here,” said one longtime employee flatly. “He’s definitely here. So you better watch where you’re going.”
Have your own pool-hustling ghost story? A fond memory of Puckett? An old snapshot of your hustling granddad or a historical video? Consider sharing it at www.poolhistory.com. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to post it up.
R.A. Dyer is the author of “The Hustler & The Champ, Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats and the Rivalry that Defined Pool,” new out from Lyons Press.
Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world’s best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love — pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.