By mo Juenger, Print Managing Editor
An Ohio mayor has taken TikTok by storm throughout the pandemic.
Leeman Kessler is a podcaster, content creator and actor. Since 2020, he has also served as mayor to the city of Gambier, Ohio — home to Kenyon College.
His TikTok presence as the deadpan, Ohio-based comedian “Mayor Lovecraft” has gained him significant online notoriety. He has gained roughly 130,000 followers on the platform since taking office.
Much of Kessler’s popularity stems from his creation of Ohio-specific cryptids and creatures in his videos. His original viral video featured a mysterious “Raven Queen,” though following videos have introduced hits like the “Moss Goblin” and the “Tree of Blades.”
Buckeye fans of his videos often comment on his ability to pinpoint fun, regional quirks like the prevalence of Bob Evans locations in the state.
“One of the nice things about Ohio is that these (Bob Evans restaurants) are actually save locations,” Kessler said in a January video. “If you find yourself here, you can save your progress, and if you make a mistake, you can always come back here and try again.”
Kessler is the host of an H.P. Lovecraft-themed YouTube channel called “Ask Lovecraft.”
The show features Kessler dressed as the horror writer, answering questions and doling out dubious advice. Since the show’s 2012 debut, it has gained over 7,000 followers.
He has narrated three audiobooks and has been featured in the Adventure Zone graphic novels as well as several tabletop games. Much of Kessler’s online persona is also dedicated to his identity as a father.
“I have to be mindful of the fact that I’m the dad of two kids who are potentially embarrassed by my shenanigans,” he said.
Kessler and his wife attended Kenyon College for their undergraduate studies, and the couple returned to the town in 2015 for a job opportunity. He soon became involved in politics and was elected to the village’s council in 2017.
“In a few short years, I go from returning to my college town to being mayor of it,” he said.
Kessler hopes to highlight his 2,000-person town — and the whole state of Ohio — as a tourist destination.
“The idea of people returning to Ohio or as a destination state for the longest time was not in the public imagination,” he said. “And yet, here I am, someone who not only came here once, but came here twice.”
The @MayorLovecraft TikTok, a mishmash of his political work and his sci-fi online persona, strives to uplift Ohio in much the same way. Kessler’s use of humor and an antiquated Lovecraftian dialect have rocketed him to popularity.
“One of the nice things about living in Ohio is that if you stand on the correct side of many of our beautiful rivers and waterways, you’ll begin to hear the true secrets and lore of this land,” Kessler said in a recent TikTok, a wilderness scene from Gambier behind him.
“However, I must caution you. If you stand on the wrong side, all you’ll get are half-remembered dreams from all who have left Ohio. Figuring out which side you’re on can be the work of a lifetime,” he concluded.
He noted that his slogan, “Keep Ohio Weird,” is a play on the city of Austin’s longtime motto encouraging yuppies, hipsters and weirdos nationwide to move there. While he doesn’t anticipate Ohio will become the next Austin, Kessler is excited to see interest in state tourism and growth generated via social media.
“If I can give Ohio a little bit more weirdness and wonderment, I’m happy to do it,” he added.