Carlson, Chester F.

Chester F. Carlson (1906–1968) was a physicist, inventor of the Xerox photographic process and important benefactor of parapsychology, much interested in the possibility of Survival After Death.

Chester “Chet” Carlson was born in February 1906. He was trained as an attorney and a physicist and had a material outlook for much of his adult life. However, in the 1940s, his wife, Dorris, began to experience clairaudient hallucinations and precognitive visions, which first led to his interest in psychic phenomena and later to his active involvement in parapsychology.

Carlson’s own experiences of the paranormal began when he attempted to repeat his wife’s experiences. He sat quietly with his eyes closed and concentrated on hearing a sound. When he had heard nothing after 15 or 20 minutes, he became discouraged and decided to give up. At that instant, there was a loud, explosive noise in the middle of the room, well away from the walls, ceiling and floor. Dorris heard it too, and so did their dachshund, which had been sleeping but suddenly leaped up, startled.

The Carlsons subsequently did some experiments together. He made drawings downstairs in the living room without telling her what they were about, while she was upstairs in the bedroom trying to draw the same things. Her drawings showed similarities to his, but he was always able to find an explanation for this. Finally, however, she drew what she thought must be a mistake: the dachshund’s hindquarters. This, indeed, was exactly what Carlson had drawn, intending to tease her. Her drawing convinced him, once and for all.

Carlson began to read widely in the parapsychological literature, correspond with major figures in the field and visit research centers. His attitude toward parapsychology was similar to the approach that had made his dream of a dry copying method a reality: he saw that it might be necessary to make an end run around established beliefs, in as well as out of the field, if progress was to be made. He understood well the need for empirical research but was driven by the big picture. Partly because of his personal experiences, and encouraged by Dorris, Carlson became very interested in the connections between altered states of consciousness, such as meditation and ESP functioning. He was particularly concerned with the question of survival and the meanings and values emerging from parapsychological research.

Carlson donated generously to many parapsychological research endeavors; however, he was most closely associated with the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), perhaps because his interests were closely parallel to those of Gardner Murphy, then the society’s president. Carlson recruited Karlis Osis as the ASPR’s research officer and funded part of his study of deathbed apparitions (see Deathbed Visions), as well as numerous other projects. From 1964 until 1968, he served as a trustee, and in 1966 his contributions helped the society purchase a building at 5 West 73rd Street in Manhattan.

Carlson died on September 19, 1968, leaving a $23 million estate. Twelve percent of it was left to parapsychology. The ASPR received 5 percent as a contribution to its endowment fund. Another 5 percent went to the University of Virginia to create the Division of Personality Studies. (A year before his death, Carlson had endowed a research chair for Ian Stevenson “and his successors.”) The Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (see Rhine Research Center) in Durham, North Carolina, received 2 percent.

Carlson’s association with the ASPR did not end with his death. His apparition has reportedly been seen in the building on a number of occasions. In one of these, a librarian in her first week on the job looked up to see the top half of his body in the corner of the room. She was so shaken that it took her a week to tell Osis of her experience, but when she did, he pulled a set of photographs out of a drawer and asked her if she recognized any of them. The librarian had no trouble identifying the man, and Osis smiled and nodded, telling her: “The next time you see Chet, say ‘hello.’ ”


  • Brian, Dennis. The Enchanted Voyager: The Life of J. B. Rhine. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
  • “Lecture Forum Honoring the Memory of Chester F. Carlson.” Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)28 (1969).
  • Osis, Karlis. “The American Society for Psychical Research, 1941–1985: A Personal View.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)79 (1985): 501–529.

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007