A Murphy bed in 1923. (Credit: Wurts Brothers/Museum of the City of New York)
Google the term “Murphy bed” and among the top suggested related searches that pops up is, “Can a Murphy bed kill you?” In short, yes. A Murphy bed could kill you. If not secured and used properly, there have been incidents of Murphy bed-related injuries and deaths.
The cases are few and far between. In 1982, the woeful tale of an intoxicated man being suffocated inside a closed Murphy bed made headlines. Two women were entrapped and suffocated by an improperly installed Murphy bed in 2005, and more recently, in 2014, a Staten Island man’s death was allegedly caused by a defective Murphy bed. But as The New York Times Magazine writer Jody Rosen so elegantly stated in a 2018 piece about these freak accidents, “It was hardly an epidemic; statistically speaking, you were probably as likely to die by tripping over an ottoman or walking under a falling piano.”
Still, as Rosen noted, “there were enough of these mishaps to seize the imagination, fixing in popular consciousness the image of a bed that could snap you up in its jaws as you slept.”
Murphy beds have been used as comic props in movies and television shows almost since its invention. According to Smithsonian Mag, William Lawrence Murphy came up with the idea for the fold-out bed around 1900 in San Francisco. As the legend goes, a love interest prompted the invention of the wall bed. Murphy was taken by a young opera singer, however, it would be considered deeply immodest to invite her to enter a gentleman’s bedroom. The wall bed allowed Murphy to stow his bed in his closet, hence transforming his one-room apartment from a bedroom into a parlor where the young singer could enter. Murphy originally called his invention “The Disappearing Bed,” but it ultimately became known by his moniker.
One of the first—and perhaps most famous—instances of a Murphy bed appearing in pop culture was Charlie Chaplin’s “One A.M.” The 1916 film depicted a five-minute-long struggle between Chaplin and the Murphy bed, ending with both parties worse for the wear and Chaplin resigning himself to sleep in the bathtub. Throughout the decades, Murphy beds have similarly been used in the media to incite laughter, often by causing injury or frustration, which may explain why people often associate Murphy beds with some sort of calamity.
Murphy-bed technology has improved vastly since its invention a century ago. If you Google the term “Murphy bed” you will also find a related search that reads, “Are Murphy beds Safe?” The research is clear. According to Go Downsize, “When used properly, Murphy beds are not dangerous. They will not fold up against the wall when you are on top of the bed. When the frame is mounted properly on the wall it will not fold down on you either.”
Like any household product or appliance that is used incorrectly, it can result in injury, but as Rosen pointed out, death by Murphy bed is extremely unlikely. Frayed cords, poor maintenance and proximity to water all contribute to seemingly safe household appliances becoming dangerous. Here are a few of the most common household hazards that are statistically more likely to cause harm than a Murphy bed mishap.
Lint in Dryers
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, failing to remove lint from a dryer causes roughly 2,900 fires a year. Those fires result in 100 injuries and five deaths annually.
Extension cords spark more than 3,000 residential fires annually, which results in an estimated 50 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission attributes more than 25,000 residential fires annually to space heaters. These fires result in more than 300 deaths, according to the organization. Additionally, roughly 6,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year for burn injuries due to contacting hot surfaces on a space heater.
Who knew something as unassuming as a ceiling fan could be so dangerous? Nearly 20,000 people are injured from ceiling fans falling due to improper mounting annually. Early this year, Lowes recalled thousands of ceiling fans for risk of blades flying off and causing injury.
Mandolins are used to cut produce into thin slices, but often result in the user slicing their fingers. According to Cooking Light, they are no more dangerous than a chef knife, however, a mandolin requires concentration with deliberate motions to avoid injuring yourself. Most mandolines come with lots of attachments and safety guards, which are usually intimidating and cumbersome, the article states.
Using at-home workout equipment can be dangerous, especially if you’re alone and heavy weights are involved. Treadmills are also hazardous. According to a Men’s Journal article, “30 cases of treadmill-associated deaths in the U.S. have been reported in the ten years between 2003 and 2012, averaging out to about three deaths per year.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are as many as 23 fire-related injuries and deaths attributed to candles every day. The most common causes are leaving candles unattended or the presence of combustible material being too close to the candle flame.
To answer the question, “Can a Murphy bed kill you?” The factual answer is yes, but it is highly unlikely and no more dangerous than any other household appliance or product. Statistically speaking, the average treadmill is far more dangerous (and requires far more effort to use) than a Murphy bed.