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One of the nice things about living in Ohio is a small-town mayor going viral on TikTok

Leeman Kessler TikTok
Leeman Kessler
@mayorlovecraft on TikTok
Leeman Kessler's TikTok videos about living in Ohio often reference mysterious objects like The Shards, The Sentinels, The Orbs, and The Vengeful Tomb.

"One of the best things about living in Ohio is knowing that the Raven Queen won't ever set foot here. Not again. Not after last time."

So says Leeman Kessler of the popular TikTok account @mayorlovecraft. Kessler just surpassed 100,000 followers on the account. That's about 50 times the population of Gambier, Ohio, the small village where Kessler went to college and where he now serves as mayor.

His account first went viral in mid-December with the Raven Queen video quoted above, which now has 2.9 million views. Since then, Kessler's vague and often ominous quips on living in Ohio are his most popular videos with view counts like 700,000, 1.2 million, and 1.4 million.

"There's some folks who want to play along and be like, 'Oh, yes, we've heard all about this, my grandfather fought the great wars 100 years ago with the Raven Queen.' People like that sense of play," Kessler tells WVXU. "And then there are people who genuinely are just like, 'I've looked this up on Google, I can't find anything!' "

While the Raven Queen won't appear in any Ohio history textbooks, Kessler says he wants to inspire an interest in the actual history of his home state.

"There are real bits of Ohio lore - like the Loveland Frogman - and strange, like the Guardians in Cleveland," he said. "There's all these kinds of bizarre bits of ephemera built up over centuries of Ohio history."

Kessler's "Always Has Been" videos are somewhat menacing at first glance, but they seem to inspire a sense of hopeful solidarity among Ohioans. Here are some examples (if you know, you know):

  • "One of the nice things about living in Ohio is that while Hell is real here, the gates of Hell are always unlocked."
  • "One of the nice things about living in Ohio is that when it snows, the gentle whisper of each snowflake hitting the ground is a warning of something that will go wrong next year."
  • "One of the nice things about living in Ohio is that if you stand long enough on the correct side of one of our many beautiful rivers and waterways, you'll begin to hear the true secrets and lore of this land. However, I must caution you: if you stand on the wrong side, all you'll get are half-remembered dreams from those who have left Ohio. Figuring out which side you're on can be the work of a lifetime."

Kessler says memes about Ohio are often negative: there's nothing to do here; it has no unique culture; etc. (One reads: 24 astronauts were born in Ohio. What is it about your state that makes people want to flee the Earth?)

Kessler says he wants people to not take where they live for granted.

"There's just a lot of these cracks and gray areas that someone with an ear to the ground and an eye for mystery and wonderment can find strangeness that grows in those cracks," he said. "And I think that's what the 'Always Has Been' series has managed to tap into, is that desire for there to be something different and interesting and unexplainable about what it means to be an Ohioan."

The appeal seems to reach far beyond Ohio's borders.

"A lot of people have said, 'Oh, I want to go to Ohio now. Oh, I've never ever been interested in Ohio, but now I want to come see,' " Kessler said. "I'm not saying the Ohio Tourism Board owes me a check, but if they want to send me one I'm not going to say no."

Kessler says the popularity of his videos is "mind boggling and humbling" and he's excited to keep the project going.

If, that is, the state's observatories and telescopes continue to do their job, "pointed at the same patch of sky, day and night. Unwavering, unblinking – always on guard to warn us at a moment's notice of Their return."

Becca Costello grew up in Williamsburg and Batavia (in Clermont County) listening to WVXU. Before joining the WVXU newsroom, she worked in public radio & TV journalism in Bloomington, Indiana and Lincoln, Nebraska. Becca has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including from local chapters of the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to regional and national Murrow Award winners. Becca has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Becca's dog Cincy (named for the city they once again call home) is even more anxious than she is.