Jimmy Carter opened his backyard to thousands of neighbors yesterday - having taken Mrs. Carter and daughter Amy vacationing in warmer weather off the coast of Georgia.

In their absence, the Big Event was the White House Egg Roll, a century-old Easter Monday tradition.

The egg roll contest featured about 14,000 parents and children, some of who used spoons to whip, flip, smash and sometimes even roll 20 dozen colored, hard-boiled eggs over the White House lawn.

"What a mess," exclaimed one child as she kicked egg yolk over the finish line.

The object of the egg roll contest - started ages ago by Egyptian children fond of hurling boiled eggs at pyramids - sounds simple enough. Roll egg, with spoon, for 10 yards. First egg across finish line wins.

But, as Post reporter William Barry Furling observed at the event in 1974, "The ideal athlete is either (a) very short - preferably one foot high - or (b) has arms so long he can tie his shoes without bending over." Competitors were 8 years old and under.

"The trick is to get a good roll going from the begining," said Dave Parker, a veteran egg roller from Arlington who used his spoon like a catapult to fire one hard-boiled-egg up side the head of an inattentive parent.

With an unabashed curiosity all their own, tourists have made their presence in Washington apparent, reporting to the White House and other popular establishments in record numbers during the Easter weekend.

"Ain't never seen nothin' like it 'fore in my life," said one elderly out-of-towner who was still amazed by his ride on the Metro subway even as he strolled around the White House.

The Smithsonian reported yesterday record attendance at the Air and Space Museum, Museum of History and technology, the National History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum.

During the Easter weekend last year, The Air and Space Museum had 145,947 visitors. This Easter weekend there were 205,339, according to spokesperson Lilas Wiltshire.

"April is out peak month," said Leonard Hickman, of the Hotel Association of Washington. "Based on the figures I have, things are running slightly ahead of last year at this time, he said.

Austin Kenny, executive vice president for the Washington Convention and Visitors Association, said, "By all indications we're holding our own with last year, which was our record year." Nearly one million visitors came to Washington last year.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, brother Gary and Peter Crowly of Northeast Washington dangled from a royal paulownia tree, listening to lively music from the Gavioli Mechanical Music Band Organ.

Although chilly, 40-drgree breezes whipped along the rolling White House lawn, the boys said they were having a ball.

"Its not as much as the Ringling Brothers," said Gary, 9.

"But it's better than school," said Peter, who is 10. CAPTION: Picture 1, Martin Kurland, also known as Kurly, entertains young visitors at Easter egg roll on White House lawn. Photos by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Julia Mariz with her granddaughter, Ayana, 2; Picture 3, A child dressed in her Easter finery walks with her mother at the White House. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post