The White House Easter Egg Roll has come a long way since Rutherford B. Hayes started it in 1878.

Even the tiniest children had to go through metal detectors yesterday. Over the four hours a record 30,000 people swarmed on the South Lawn, where they were dazzled by: a Bullwinkle balloon, 75 feet high, from the Macy parade; giant cartoon characters who roamed the grounds and actually talked to you; a white poodle who climbed a 20-foot ladder to the tune of "Hello Dolly" and jumped off; the Army, Navy and Marine bands; a kite-making place; a balloon-blowing place; display cases filled with artistic eggs; a straw-covered pen where you could hunt for some of the 8,000 Easter eggs, and a little race track for the egg rolling itself, a custom that is supposed to have begun with the stone that was rolled away from Christ's tomb.

Ronald Reagan may have his problems in Washington and the rest of the country and all over the world. But he sure can put on an egg roll.

What a beautiful morning. Every few seconds another balloon got loose and headed for the blue sky. Sometimes the owner would cry. Sometimes the owner would just stand there, mouth open, watching as the balloon turned into a dot and then a speck and then a blip and then nothing.

Twelve-foot-tall "Alice in Wonderland" cutouts, painted by Corcoran students, stood on a knoll next to some costumed people. A small girl stood and looked at them while she chewed on a carrot. They smiled at her and waved. She did not smile. Behind her a Bulgarian acrobat troupe did amazing things with a springboard. They jumped on each other's shoulders until they had a tower four men high and everyone clapped.

About 11 the rumor passed that President Reagan was coming. People pushed up to the snow fence near the south entrance. More people pushed on the first ones. It got crowded. It got hot. Children wanted to be lifted up. Mothers held them and then put them down.

"Look good while you got the chance," one mother said, "I'm givin' out."

"Look, there's Captain America!" someone said. "And Yogi Bear! and Huckleberry Hound! And Garfield the cat! And who's that big one?"

The big one was Jeremy the Crow, touting a new animated movie, according to the promotion material.

White-uniformed maids stared down from upstairs windows. Men kept opening the doors. A hopeful voice: "Here they come!" No, it was only the Secret Service.

"Orin!" shouted a mother. "Anyone see Orin? Very small, in a striped shirt?" A call went up for Orin. He was in the front row, it turned out. His mother made him come back, and was he mad. It was 11:40 now, and the crowd at the fence stuck together like caramel corn. Suddenly a cry went up.

"There he is!" a woman told her daughter, perched on her shoulders. "See him? In the gray suit? You know him from TV!"

"We love you!" another woman called.

And there they all were: Snoopy in a bunny suit, and Mickey Mouse, and the Campbell Soup twins, and President Reagan, and Ronald McDonald, and Spider Man, and Mrs. Reagan, and the Incredible Hulk, and Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks, and some giraffes from Toys-R-Us, and Vice President Bush, and Woody Woodpecker, and the "Pirates of Penzance" cast, and Mrs. Bush, and Donald Duck, and Slush Puppie, and Cap'n Crunch, and even the Easter Bunny.

Rutherford B. Hayes wouldn't have believed his eyes.