By Jennifer Gardner
Utley Puckett, better known to the pool world as hustler U.J. Puckett, was born in 1911 and died 81 years later, in 1992. In life he knew fame and fortune as a professional nine-ball and one-pocket champion alongside fellow sharks Jersey Red and Ronnie Allen. He was famous for his large brimmed white Stetson and his larger-than-life persona. But in death U.J. Puckett is known to some as the ghost who haunts a Texas poolroom.
Fast Freddy’s for years has been a beer drinker’s beacon on Fort Worth’s Crowley Road — and it was there that the old hustler spent the later part of his long and illustrious life. He played pool there and picked up women and hustled poor schmucks. It was so much like home that some patrons believe Puckett never truly left. The pool hall even adopted the hustler’s name a few years back — folks now call it “Puckett’s,” not “Fast Freddy’s” — and despite his death 27 years ago, the old white-haired hustler still very much lives on there, according to some of its regulars.
In life, U.J. was known for his love of pool, fishing and pretty women. After he died, patrons and employees began noticing strange phenomena. This weirdness was first documented back in 2008, in articles that appeared in Billiards Digest and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Patrons spoke then of cue sticks falling off their wall racks, of waitresses feeling the cold touch of large fingers on the back of their necks, of banging sounds coming from inside the empty beer cooler. Some even claimed to have seen the specter of an old white-haired man brushing down the pool tables.
Several witnesses said they often observed this unusual activity whenever anyone disturbed Puckett’s favorite chair, which had been located near his favorite pool table, #19. I called out to the Texas pool hall recently and folks told me the chair is still there, although it’s seen better days. They said its ripped leather upholstery most likely never will be repaired lest Puckett’s ghost take his revenge by dropping pool cues on someone’s head, as apparently happened to one woman. They also recounted how a clairvoyant brought in to contact the departed Puckett claimed she felt his presence near the chair, and advised the room’s patrons and employees to let it be. Don’t even sit in it, she said.
Despite the name change and long years since the hustler’s death, some of the regulars still remember him well. Jackie Reagor described U.J as an ornery but good guy who enjoyed living for the day. They met in 1982, he said. And while Reagor has heard the stories of Puckett’s ghost, he doesn’t believe them. If U.J is going to haunt anywhere, he says, it wouldn’t be a pool hall. It would be Eagle Mountain Lake, where the big man loved to fish.
Others, however, can’t explain the odd things they’ve witnessed. According to an employee named Felicity, a full rack of bar cues fell from the wall one night as she walked through the room. The cues were on the opposite side of the room as Puckett’s chair, which had been moved at some point that night, probably by patrons who didn’t know any better. She also has reported hearing the men’s restroom door slam shut when she was otherwise alone, closing up the bar.
But by far, Puckett’s favorite sharking technique from the grave is hiding people’s keys. Several employees have fell victim to it. Assistant Manager Amy Martinez has witnessed keys showing up in strange places after disappearing the night before. Once they reappeared on top of the snooker table. One time a manager had to take a taxi home and back to work the next morning, only to locate his keys where they all knew he didn’t leave them. She also has heard whistling and footsteps in the bar when she was alone. And one day when she opened the room for business, the safe was already open, when she knew it’d been locked the night before. Nothing was missing.
Whether or not the strange occurrences at Puckett’s in Forth Worth are the hustler’s doing, one thing is certain: the memory of the hustler is alive and well and lives on in Fort Worth. So if you’re ever passing that old room on Crowley Road, be sure to stop in for a game of pool. It costs just $5 at night and ladies play most nights for free. You might even want to practice your one-pocket game, because that would made U.J happy.
But do yourself a favor. Keep your keys in your pocket. Just in case.
You can read an earlier 2008 report on Puckett’s ghost here.