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Grand Central’s cultural sites

Tucked away in a small Kansas town is a leading maker of violins, violas and cellos. Located in a tiny Oklahoma ranching community is the burial site of one of America’s greatest entertainers. In his hometown in Missouri, America’s 33rd president walked nearly every day to his office at the library that was built for him.

No matter where you go, cities and towns in the Grand Central states are strewn with important historic, cultural and arts destinations.

Krutz Strings

Merriam, Kansas

There’s no symphony orchestra or cosmopolitan concert hall in the small, 11,000-person city of Merriam, Kansas. So it may be surprising that Merriam is home to both K.C. Strings and Krutz Strings: The first is a shop that sells all types of stringed instruments, and the second is the workshop where master craftspeople make violins, violas, cellos, basses and five-strings.

Both are owned by Misha Krutz and his son, Anton Krutz. Misha is a retired professional bass player and professor. Misha opened K.C. Strings in 1992 to sell all things stringed, but it was Anton who spearheaded the crafting arm, Krutz Strings.

Anton graduated from the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, Utah, and worked at a variety of prestigious violin shops across the country before moving to Kansas to open Krutz Strings.

Today, groups can tour both the retail store and the workshop. Visitors start in K.C. Strings, then walk across the street to the Krutz Strings workshop, where they watch as about 10 master craftspeople make the instruments, said Anton, who is a master luthier.

For visitors, it’s like stepping back in time, he said. People are used to technology and automation, so it’s rare to watch someone engaged in a centuries-old handcrafting process, he said.

The tour also opens the doors to a field that is traditionally closed off. Although the building process is no secret, individual luthiers guard the trade secrets that set apart their instruments, such as a type of wood or a varnish recipe, he said.

“It’s one of the last secretive fields, because in every other field, you have to publish your work in order to get well known,” Anton said. “In the violinmaking field, you have to keep it secret because that’s your recipe, kind of like the Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe or Coca Cola recipe. You keep it under lock and key.”


Harry S. Truman Library

Independence, Missouri

It’s an ongoing debate: Does the “S” in Harry S. Truman need a period after it?

Many people don’t realize that the “S” doesn’t stand for anything. The parents of America’s 33rd president couldn’t decide whether his middle name should be Solomon or Ship, so they simply went with “S.”

That’s just one little-known fact that visitors learn during a tour of the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, said deputy director Amy Williams.

The “library” part can be a bit misleading because it’s also a museum with permanent and rotating exhibits, she said. One of the most popular exhibits is the full-size reproduction Oval Office from Truman’s time — he was in office from 1945 to 1953 — that includes the famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign that Truman kept on his desk. The back of that sign reads, “I’m from Missouri,” which Truman always said helped keep him grounded.

The Trumans’ Chryslers are another big draw. Truman and his wife, Bess, bought two 1941 Chryslers — a sedan and a coupe — and the library has them on display. Both were fully restored by the Chrysler Group, which even brought in its researchers to choose the seat fabric, Williams said.

“They’re in perfect running order — not that we would take them for a peel around town. But we could,” she added.

Truman also kept an office at the library and worked there for the 10 years before his death. Practically every day, Truman strolled from his home down the street to the library, where he wrote his memoirs, entertained dignitaries and sometimes talked to visiting school groups. Today, visitors can see his office exactly as he left it when he died in 1972.

“He had an office at his library, which is not uncommon; but he used it, which is,” Williams said. “He taught our first group of docents how to give tours, and if a school group was here and he was available, the standing word was to herd them into the auditorium, and he would talk to them.”

The library’s “Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear” exhibit, which explores the nation’s Cold War tensions and Communism mania, opens March 15 and runs through October. Group rates and guided tours are available when booked in advance.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.