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Untold Stories: Puckett Haunts Texas Poolhall

Player's ghost said to topple cues, tromp floorboards, spook the ladies

By R.A. Dyer

From Hollywood to Johnston City, U.J. Puckett led a full life.

There's a pock-marked patch of wooden floor out back at Fast Freddy's poolhall in Fort Worth, Texas. The flooring is small, maybe 12-foot square, and leads to the bathrooms. It looks like boards stripped from the deck of an old sailing ship.

Carl Raithel taps it with the heel of his shoe. "Hear that?" he says. The wood creaks and groans. Thud. Thud. THUD. "Hear that? It sounds just like that."

That's the sound, says the grizzled old handyman, of pool players crossing over those planks. That's the sound heard over and over each night and every night at Fast Freddy's when the working class poolroom is filled wall to wall, and the beer-drinking Southside customers are making their way to the head.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

But that's also the sound, Carl adds darkly, that you sometimes hear very late at night at Fast Freddy's. The thudding begins after the front doors have been locked and after all the pool shooters have gone home and when there's not another living soul there with you. Thud. Thud. Thud. And sometimes, says Carl, the pool cues start tumbling from the wall, one right after another, as if hurled by an invisible hand.

I stumbled across these strange stories a few months back after making a random call out to Fast Freddy's, which I knew to be an old haunt of the great one-pocket player U.J. Puckett. The barmaids all told me of the mysterious sounds, as did the managers. A few regulars described apparitions and even a ghostly image supposedly captured on the security camera.

The regulars told other stories as well - none of which could be easily explained - and yet most of the regulars had explanations nonetheless.

They said that Utley J. Puckett, now dead 16 years, has returned from the grave.

Welcome back to Untold Stories. This month's installment is a spooky one - perhaps one better left for Halloween. It got its start a few months back, after I pitched a story about Puckett for the local newspaper. I knew that Fast Freddy's had been a favorite haunt of Puckett's during his lifetime, and I figured the old-timers there might tell me a story or two that I could write up for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Imagine my surprise when about a dozen patrons absolutely swore to me, unsolicited, that Puckett was haunting Fast Freddy's still.

"People talk about Puckett's ghost, and it's pretty serious," said one of the regulars with deadly earnestness.

I asked him if he was putting me on.

"No, really," he said. "It's true. It's absolutely true."

This column is based almost entirely on interviews with patrons, employees, former staffers and managers. Nearly all of them described the same manifestations or similar ones. Besides interviewing about a dozen regulars, I also went back through some newspaper archives and resurrected some of my previous research from my first book, "Hustler Days." Some of the information here also appeared in a story I wrote about Puckett's ghost for the Star-Telegram, which is a newspaper where I work as a daily reporter.

Now, before I write another line, I want to make it clear that I don't necessarily believe any of these stories. I mean, I believe everyone was truthful to me in their descriptions of what they saw, or what they thought they saw. But I don't necessarily believe that this means that Puckett's ghost is stomping around Fast Freddy's and terrorizing the pretty girls. In fact, a few of those who knew Puckett said the old white-haired hustler would have been far, far too lazy to have returned from the grave. Also, Puckett's widow is having none of it. "I don't believe in spirits," she told me flatly.

But then again, you never know

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