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HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS

CITY PARK GOLF COURSE GHOSTS

"... I loved the game then as I do now ... I'd do the same thing over if I had the chance, and if it were possible, I'd like to be buried behind the 18th green ... "

-- Eddie "Blackie" Pustanio, The New Orleans States Item, October 1973.

by Jane Wichers photos by Hershel Meyers

 

The first of the renowned City Park golf courses opened in 1902 and many times over the years these beautiful courses have won distinction as some of the most picturesque to be found anywhere in the world.

If recent reports are true, the City Park golf courses may be offering up more than great golfing: They may also be among the most haunted in the world.

 

In New Orleans City Park Golf course Ghost seem to be playing parr.  True Haunted Tales of a  famous New Orleans Haunted Golf course.
But no reports are as vivid as those recounted by players who have encountered the apparition at the 18th green of the famous East Course. These tell of the apparition of an older, white haired man, who, once again, is "just standing there" watching as the golfers complete their play on the 18th hole.

 

The perfectly manicured greens and fairways of the old courses are lined with the overgrowth of high grass and tangled palmetto bushes smothering the gnarled, fern-encrusted limbs of ancient oak trees. There are bayous meandering the entire length of some fairways, pooling in the magnolia shadows where only an occasional insect or lone alligator disturbs the glassy, green surface. Early morning foursomes can breathe the fragrant air still heavy with the scent of jasmine and wild honeysuckle, and late evening players can relax under the crimson of a Southern sunset as night steals from the darkness of the trees and blankets the fairways in silence. Despite the fact that the City Park courses lie in the heart of the great buzz of New Orleans, all remains tranquil on these verdant fields.

But recently, some golfers are hurrying through their games, sometimes opting to "play nine" instead of the full 18. Some golfers are avoiding the peaceful shade under the spreading oak trees, even with heat indexes in the one hundred plus range. And when they stop to chat, or to grab a "cool one" from the ice chest in the golf cart, they're not just talking about who's shooting par anymore: They're telling each other and anyone who'll listen about strange encounters they have had lately out on the old courses, and the talk turns to the recent sightings of a chilling apparition haunting the 18th green of the famous East Course.

 


They're telling each other and anyone who'll listen about strange encounters they have had lately out on the old courses, and the talk turns to the recent sightings of a chilling apparition haunting the 18th green of the famous East Course.

 

Golfers on the secluded "Little Course," the southmost of the old courses, have recently been re-telling a story of a haunting first reported years ago in which the entire series of events that led to the shooting of a woman golfer seems to be reenacted in the still morning hours.

Golfers report hearing the muffled voices of two females playing ahead of them; some report being a little surprised by this when they thought themselves to be the earliest golfers on the course. The sound of a solid drive is clearly heard through the trees, followed by pleased laughter and commentary from what sounds like two ladies. The reverie turns bad immediately, however, when the sharp "crack" of a gunshot is heard, followed by a woman's scream of "I'm hit!"

South Course golfers report having rushed toward the alarming sounds only to find the green vacant with no sign of any other golfers, male or female, around. Sometimes the sounds are so alarming that police have been dispatched in response to a worried cellphone caller who insists that he or she has just heard the sound of a murder. Occasionally there is even the report of a shadowy form seen lying prone on the grass but as alarmed golfers approach the spectre "vaporizes," as one man put it, right before their eyes.

 


Once I was in the shack clearing some papers out of one of the carts. I looked up and there he was standing inside the doorway, right by the sunlight. I couldn't make out his face but he really looked familiar." In the above photo you can make out what appears to resemble Blackie Pustanio amongs the many Orbs.

 

Jean H., an old timer on the City Park courses, tells Haunted New Orleans Tours that she believes the Little Course is "definitely haunted" and claims that the ghosts are recreating an event in the early 1960's when a woman golfer was hit by a bullet while playing the City Park South Course.

"No one ever found out why he shot her," says Jean, referring to the later arrest of an unnamed suspect who was apprehended driving the lanes of the park in a late 1950's maroon convertible with a .22 caliber rifle on the seat beside him.

The shooting and subsequent arrest made front page news on the covers of both the New Orleans dailies, the Times Picayune and the States-Item, but this didn't assuage the fear of golfers on other fairways who peered nervously into the shady rough wondering if they might be "next."

In a strange 1980's follow-up to this shooting, the son of one of the investigating officers was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on the very same South Course green where the woman had been shot years prior.

When the City Park courses changed hands several years ago, alterations were made to the old South Course and no one can be certain now which hole is the exact location of the shooting and later suicide.

But more recent reports by local golfers have added a strange twist to this old haunting: a new phantom.

Several alarmed golfers have reported not only the familiar, oft-heard sounds of women laughing and the inevitable gunshot, but there have also been accounts by eye-witnesses who have seen a man, or the figure of a man, in the area.

"He's sort of medium height and thin with really dark hair," recounted one very alarmed female golfer. "He had very intense features; he was standing looking down at the green when I was walking toward him. As I got closer he looked up and shook his head and then just disappeared!"

Naturally, this was very alarming and because the old story had a new aspect, police had to treat it as an entirely new event. Once again, as they did so many years ago, police are responding to calls on the South Course and are making searches of the area, stopping golfers who bear any resemblance to the strange new phantom reported lurking about the scene.

There is an element of believability to all these reports because this man, real or phantom, has been seen walking on other courses or standing in the shade of the old oaks just watching as golfers daily play through.

 

Blackie Pustanio and the Trophy he recieved from Legenday 1938 Inaugral Golf tournement winner, The Golf legend Harry Cooper. This Trophy was buried with Blackie in 2001 actual family members and close friends say. So how did the trophy get to it's final resting place? So you be the judge.

Blackie Pustanio Pictured with his most prized possession, and one that any fan of the game would treasure, is the legendary Harry Cooper's winning golf ball from the 1938 Inaugural New Orleans Open. Blackie caddied for Cooper throughout the Open and was so pleased with his caddy's fine guidance that he paid him handsomely and gave him the winning ball mounted as a permanent possession.

 

"He was just standing there," one golfer told a City Park police officer. "I mean he didn't threaten us or anything, but, I don't know -- I guess it made us uncomfortable, him following us around like that." The golfer then related that when he and a friend approached the stranger, "he was gone." The shadowy man had simply vanished.

But no reports are as vivid as those recounted by players who have encountered the apparition at the 18th green of the famous East Course. These tell of the apparition of an older, white haired man, who, once again, is "just standing there" watching as the golfers complete their play on the 18th hole.

"If there's nothing happening on that green, it looks like he likes to watch the guys on the putting green," said one unidentified golfer.

But encounters with this ghost are not limited to the greens and fairways. The shadowy apparition has been seen inside the old clubhouse as well, and these sightings provide the first real clues as to who this apparition might be.

"I've seen him a few times," says David B., a long-time City Park employee whose job in the maintenance areas of the old clubhouse often keeps him late. "Once I was in the shack clearing some papers out of one of the carts. I looked up and there he was standing inside the doorway, right by the sunlight. I couldn't make out his face but he really looked familiar."

David has seen the phantom inside the clubhouse as well, and one encounter convinced him that he knew exactly who the ghost might be.

"I was coming from the men's locker room. The clubhouse was closed and only me and one kitchen employee were still here, and SHE was outside having a smoke at the time. I looked into the old pro workshop as I passed it, which was closed and locked at the time, and there he was, with a club in one hand and a cloth in the other. He was shining the head on that nine iron, just like I saw him do a hundred times."

David says that when he looked back again, the ghost looked up squarely into his face and glared at him, before disappearing into thin air. "I wasn't afraid," David said, "I mean he looked at everyone like that when he was busy working! But I can tell you I know who that is, I said to myself 'That's Blackie!' And nobody's going to tell me different!"

The man David is referring to is Eddie "Blackie" Pustanio, known to local golf historians and afficionados as one of the best golfers ever to come out of the Crescent City.

"Blackie" Pustanio was born and grew up, as he described it, "only a five-iron from the course," at City Park, and got his start working in the clubhouse pro-shop and caddying for some of the golfing greats of his era, such as, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and the most famous winner of the New Orleans Open, Harry Cooper.

"Golf was Blackie's life," says Jean H., when asked to relate her memories of Pustanio. "He lived it everyday. He was so talented at what he did. Not only was he a skilled craftsman but he was a hell of a player, too!"

He rose through the ranks and distinguished himself as one of the shining stars of the local golf scene. He taught and played golf on the City Park courses from the 1930's until his retirement around 1996. In his youth, however, Pustanio served City Park as an assistant professional, and ultimately rose to the rank of head pro before taking over the direction of the repair and refurbishment shop.

"He was a skilled club maker," says David B. "Ben Hogan wouldn't let anyone else touch his clubs to repair them except for Blackie. He'd ship them down here and Blackie would lock them up in the pro shop like the crown jewels!"

Pustanio once went head to head in a "putting duel" with the legendary Arnold Palmer. As Blackie told the New Orleans States-Item at the time, " I played him for $100 in 1960 because a lot of people regarded me as one of the best putters around. Well, we went around nine holes twice and after, we were tied ... But by then the crowd was so big we had to break it up."

One of Blackie's most prized possessions, and one that any fan of the game would treasure, is the legendary Harry Cooper's winning golf ball from the 1938 Inaugural New Orleans Open. Blackie caddied for Cooper throughout the Open and was so pleased with his caddy's fine guidance that he paid him handsomely and gave him the winning ball mounted as a permanent possession.

Blackie kept the mounted Cooper ball for many years and proudly displayed it in his City Park pro shop office along with other memorabilia and trophies. Upon his retirement around 1996, Blackie was asked to leave several items on loan for display in the clubhouse, and the Cooper ball was among them.

Eddie "Blackie" Pustanio died in August 2001 and although his wish to be buried "behind the 18th green" could not be fulfilled he is, in fact, buried, ironically "only a five-iron from the course" in St. Louis Cemetary No. 3. In keeping with old family traditions, Pustanio was buried with several of his most prized mementos, including a hand-carved, hickory-shaft driver and his beloved mounted Cooper golf ball: these went into the coffin with him.

Several people think there's something to the suggestion that Blackie is haunting the 18th green and the fairways he knew all his life. And a family member is in possession of a curious bit of what might be called "proof."

 


David says that when he looked back again, the ghost looked up squarely into his face and glared at him, before disappearing into thin air. "I wasn't afraid," David said, "I mean he looked at everyone like that when he was busy working! But I can tell you I know who that is, I said to myself 'That's Blackie!' And nobody's going to tell me different!" The many Orbs in the Photo suggest an image or form one . the shape of a man a face and top rigght cornor you can make out what appears to be Blackie fixing a club.

 

Just last month, a golfer who hit a ball into the rough while driving the 18th green of the old East Course was hacking through the rough when a gleam in the crux of an oak tree root caught his eye. He turned the item in to the clubhouse and the management in turn contacted a family member of Eddie "Blackie" Pustanio because the item that had turned up was the mounted 1938 Inaugural New Orleans Open winning golf ball that had been given to Blackie by Harry Cooper AND had been buried with Pustanio in August 2001 . . .

A lone golpher found this in the rough. The inscription still reads "ED BLACKIE PUSTANIO GOOD LUCK FROM HARRY COOPER 1938. It is now back with the Pustanio family and no one has any explanation on how it got out of his coffin and back on the golf course by the 18th green!

The haunted golf ball is now in the possession of Pustanio family once more... Blackie's favorite great-great-grandneice, Amanda. No one has come forth with any reasonable explanation as to how this treasured trophy of an old golf pro could have found its way out of the grave and back into the light of the living. Amanda is very Proud to have in her hands this haunted beloved trophy. And she says that she wishes to follow in her Great-great grand uncles footsteps and master the game as he did.

 

The haunted golf ball is now in the possession of Pustanio's favorite great-great-grandneice, Amanda (see sidebar). No one has come forth with any reasonable explanation as to how this treasured trophy of an old golf pro could have found its way out of the grave and back into the light of the living.

But if you are a fan of the game, and happen to be playing the old East Course, keep your eyes open for that dark shadowy figure just outside the line of sight, watching silently. And you'd better hope your game is "up to par," because a real pro is critiquing you from the Other Side.



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