by John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Recently, the Library of Congress asked the public for help identifying a mysterious unlabeled photo of a woman being attacked by a space alien in an underground train station.

It was a mystery until Michael Gene Sullivan looked more closely at the alien.

“I recognized that mask because I packed that mask away years ago,” Sullivan said.

Turns out the alien’s mask is part of a costume from a 1974 play called “The Great Air Robbery.”

Sullivan is a longtime member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe which — far from remaining silent — actually performs political-satire musicals, usually in city parks.

The picture was part of promotional photo shoot that somehow found its way to the national archive.

“Somehow, the tag fell off the back but when they looked at it, they were like: ‘is it the Paris Metro? Is it shot in Moscow?’”

In other photos you can clearly see a BART train in the background.

They were shot (without permits, of course) in the 24th St. Mission station.

It was fairly new at the time and provided a good backdrop for a play about a futuristic world choked by pollution. Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking a fake gun and what looks like a flame thrower into a BART station but that’s kind of how things happened back then.

“You know, they’re shooting Dirty Harry in the city and Bullitt and they didn’t have permits for a lot of that stuff … They would just run off and do a car chase and, hey, we didn’t kill anybody!’”

The San Francisco Mime Troupe has been staging radical social commentaries since 1959; they’ve won a Tony Award for regional performance. Their costume room has memorabilia dating back six decades despite efforts over the years to discard some of it.

“I was one of the ones who said ‘No, we need to keep this stuff because it has importance to some people and it’s part of our company history,’” Sullivan said.

And now, it’s part of American history — at least as far as the Library of Congress is concerned.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe will open its new season in July with a musical comedy about the history of socialism in America.

WEBLINK: San Francisco Mime Troup